Who’s Bad? Perhaps the numbers behind the $702 million IRS claim against Michael Jackson’s estate.
Michael Jackson has earned over half a billion dollars since his death–and now Uncle Sam wants a piece of the action.
Earlier today reports surfaced saying that the IRS is hitting Jackson’s estate with a $702 million bill, including $505.1 million in taxes and $196.9 million in penalties.
The estate will not be forced to pay any penalties unless the court rules in favor of the IRS, but those in charge of Jackson’s empire were nonetheless displeased with the news.
“The executors are disappointed the IRS continues to overreach in this matter but firmly believes all issues will be resolved in favor of the estate and the beneficiaries,” said attorney Howard Weitzman in a statement, which also noted that the estate has paid over $100 million in taxes and is “in full compliance with the tax laws.”
An IRS spokesperson declined to comment, citing Section 6103 of the tax code, which prevents the organization from discussing individual tax situations.
So will the estate actually end up having to fork over $702 million to Uncle Sam? It seems unlikely for a number of reasons, and the proverbial devil is in the details.
First of all, it’s important to understand that the IRS’s claims are related to estate tax, not income tax. In 2009, the year Jackson passed away, the maximum federal rate was 45% of net assets–implying that the IRS believes Jackson was worth in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion at the time of his death.
Though the King of Pop was a much savvier businessman than most people realize and amassed an incredible collection of assets throughout his career, he was most certainly not a billionaire on June 25th, 2009. He did not appear on FORBES’ list of billionaires that year, or any other year, for that matter.
Jackson did hold hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, namely his 50% share in the Sony /ATV catalogue, which industry experts believed to be worth as much as $750 million at the time (and is worth far more now). There were other entities, too, including his Mijac music catalogue, real estate and a massive art collection.
But Jackson also carried nearly half a billion dollars in debt, meaning that his net assets were well under $1 billion–and likely less than the $702 million tax bill proposed today. The reports also suggest that a major component of the IRS bill revolves around the value of Jackson’s image and likeness. The tax agency is said to have put that number at $434 million, while the estate valued the rights at $2,105.
Though the latter seems very low, the former seems incredibly high–at the time of Jackson’s death, anyway–given the fact that the singer hadn’t scored an endorsement deal since 1993 and didn’t crack FORBES’ list of top-earning musicians in 2008, a year in which the Police earned $115 million to claim the top spot.
To be sure, the value of just about everything Jackson-related has skyrocketed in the years following his death. His image is once again a force to be reckoned with in the endorsement world ,landing on everything from Pepsi cans to slot machines. Two Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil tours are currently running–Michael Jackson One in Las Vegas and the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour around the globe–and his music seems as popular as ever.
But estate taxes are levied on the value of assets at the time of death, not at the time the tax bill is issued or announced. And as a result, it seems unlikely that the tax court will rule in favor of the IRS getting its $702 million.
Of course, the whole issue would have been moot had Jackson died a year later: due to a legal quirk, there was no estate tax in 2010.