Robin Williams Restricted Exploitation of His Image for 25 Years After Death

by aphyre on 2015-03-31 10:55:13

On Monday, the family of Robin Williams gathers in a San Francisco courtroom in a quarrel over how to divide personal property such as jewelry and memorabilia. Unfortunately, the dispute overshadows one of the more innovative aspects of Robin Williams� estate planning, which just might become a model for other celebrities preparing for their demise. After all, one thing his wife Susan and children Zachary, Zelda andCody won�t be discussing in court is intangible property like the late actor�s right of publicity. Related: Robin Williams Remembered by Critics, Close Friends According to a review of the Robin Williams Trust � filed as an exhibit last Wednesday � Williams bequeathed rights to his name, signature, photograph and likeness to the Windfall Foundation, a charitable organization set up by Williams� legal reps at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps. There are two important facets of this provision. First, the Trust restricts exploitation of Robin Williams� right of publicity for 25 years after his death. That means, there won�t be any authorized advertisements featuring Williams until at least August 11, 2039. The provision also interferes with someone immediately doing, say, a hologram of a Robin Williams standup routine or digitally inserting him into a new film. Related: Robin Williams: Widow, Children Clash Over Estate "It�s interesting that Williams restricted use for 25 years," says Laura Zwicker, an attorney at Greenberg Glusker who counsels high net worth individuals on estate and tax planning. "I haven�t seen that before. I�ve seen restrictions on the types of uses � no Coke commercials for example � but not like this. It could be a privacy issue." Or maybe, Williams� reps were aware of novel technologies that have the power of essentially resurrecting dead celebrities � and hoped to avoid anything that could tarnish his legacy. The Trust�s publicity rights provision is cutting edge in another way. If the Windfall Foundation is deemed ineligible for a charitable deduction by the Internal Revenue Code, the Trust mandates that Robin Williams� publicity rights be distributed to one or more charitable organizations with a similar purpose (Doctors Without Borders, AIDS, Make-a-Wish, etc.) which qualify for such charitable deductions. According to insiders, this appears to be a direct reaction to a dispute happening at the moment between the estate of Michael Jackson and the IRS over how to value the late singer�s publicity rights for estate tax purposes. The federal government claims the King of Pop�s estate owes more than $500 million in taxes from his publicity rights and must also pay almost $200 million more in penalties. The dispute is currently being adjudicated in U.S. Tax Court. Assigning publicity rights to a tax-advantaged charitable organization could limit his family�s tax liability. By doing what he did, Williams not only asserted a measure of control over posthumous exploitation, but he recognized that the value of a celebrity�s afterlife has gone up in recent years and made a step to mitigate the IRS� interest in this.