Court holds Marilyn Monroe estate not owed royalties

Sacramento readers may be interested to learn that earlier this month the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the estate of Marilyn Monroe could neither stop the sale of images of the deceased actress nor collect royalties from sales by the Milton Green Archives. Under California law a person who is a legal resident of the state may be entitled to posthumous publicity rights, including the right to control images and likenesses of the deceased. For the California rich and famous, this is one estate planning consideration that could have repercussions for decades after a person's death.

The court decision came down to the fact that the actress' estate had claimed she was a resident of New York at the time of her death, apparently in part to avoid the state of California's inheritance tax. The federal appeals court ruled that since the matter of her residence had already been decided, the estate could not revisit the issue in order to take advantage of California's more protective publicity rights laws.

The determination of applicable law placed a tremendous sum on the line for the actress' estate, which filed the suit back in 2005. According to Forbes magazine, the screen legend is the third-highest earning deceased celebrity, having generated some $27 million in revenue, much of which stems from the sale of her iconic photographs. It now seems that a practical decision made over 40 years ago will prevent her estate from having any say in over the use of her likeness in images captured by archive photographers.

While most of us will never have to worry about posthumous publicity rights, this case demonstrates that estate planning can involve a variety of important decisions, many of which may have effects long after a person's death. An experienced estate planning professional can help make sure that today's decisions do not lead to unintended consequences in the future.

Source: Entertainment Weekly, "Court rules against Marilyn Monroe estate," September 4, 2012

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