At nearly 54,000 words — with an abundance of accounting formulas, and numerical charts and graphs — it could be a difficult read for the accounting-issues faint of heart. But the significance of the U.S. Tax Court decision for celebrities and their estates is clear: Prior to now, as Tax Court Judge Mark V. Holmes noted: “We haven’t had a case directly addressing the taxability of the image and likeness.” Estate of Jackson v. Commissioner, 17152-13.
The Estate of Jackson tax case involved a valuation dispute over the right of publicity of deceased superstar Michael Jackson, as well as his music publishing interests. The Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. §2031(a) states: “The value of the gross estate of the decedent shall be determined by including to the extent provided for in this part, the value at the time of his death of all property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, wherever situated.” This determination is made based on “fair market value,” defined in 26 C.F.R §20.2031-1(b) as “the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” As Judge Holmes noted, fair market value of an estate asset “is generally its value in its highest and best use on the valuation date.”