I have been thinking about death lately; not in any kind of a morbid way but simply because I have had a few friends pass away unexpectedly and because I have been helping clients deal with their loved one's estates.
A number of things that I had thought about only theoretically have become really important. For example, the whole concept of managing so‑called digital assets (which I wrote about here : http://tripaldredgelaw.blogspot.com/2012/06/digital-estate-planning.html) took on new meaning in a case I recently looked into. Without going into any of the details, I see how an awful lot of angst could have been spared if the decedent had left some instructions as to how he wanted his digital afterlife to be handled.
I've also been thinking about Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. There is a really sad article in the new Vanity Fair which details how Michael Jackson's family has been fighting over his estate. The key thing that I take away from both Michael Jackson's and Whitney Houston's estate planning is that while both of them are to be commended for providing trusts and guardianships for their minor children, neither appeared to have undertaken any significant tax planning which could have saved their estates millions of dollars. This is not a reflection on their advisors because clearly these were not the most stable clients in the world but still the lack of any type of sophisticated planning for estates of this nature is kind of shocking.
Finally, I have to say how impressed I am with Adam Yauch's will. The late Beastie Boy left a will which included the phrase "notwithstanding anything to the contrary, in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes". Thus although Yauch amply provided for his surviving wife and daughter , he made his wish clear that to the extent he could control it, he did not want the Beastie Boys' music to be used to peddle merchandise. Such dead hand control raises many questions, especially as to enforceability but the intent is devastatingly clear.
I am of two minds concerning the use of music in commercials, I see positives and negatives (and ultimately my opinion really doesn't matter) but I have to admire Mr. Yauch's willingness to take a stand on something he obviously believed in. It's a good example of how an artist can use estate planning to preserve their principles as well as his or her assets.