Carrie Fisher: Some Early Thoughts on Her Estate

May the Force be with you Carrie – you were one of the brightest stars.

The entertainment world lost an iconic legend today. Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars films, passed away this morning after suffering a heart attack on December 23, 2016, while on a flight from London to Los Angeles. In addition to her Star Wars role, Ms. Fisher starred in many other films, and also authored several books, plays, and screen plays. She recently published her autobiography, The Princess Diarist.

From a legal perspective, it is far too early to analyze Ms. Fisher’s estate to any degree. However, one can make a number of observations:

  • Fisher was not married at the time of her death, but was survived by one child, her daughter, actress Billie Lourd, age 24. Ms. Lourd therefore would be Ms. Fisher’s sole natural heir.
  • Fisher was married for a short time to singer, Paul Simon. Ms. Lourd’s father is talent agent Bryan Lourd. However, Ms. Fisher and Mr. Lourd were never legally married. Therefore, neither Paul Simon nor Bryan Lourd would be an heir to Ms. Fisher’s estate, absent an express bequest in her will or trust.
  • Fisher was the child of two entertainers, the late Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Eddie Fisher died in 2010, and was survived by four children, including Carrie Fisher. Presumably, Ms. Fisher was a partial heir to Eddie Fisher’s estate, although few details of that estate appear to be public. However, Ms. Reynolds is still living and will likely leave her estate to her surviving son and Ms. Lourd.
  • Fisher was a California resident, so her name and likeness will be protected by the California Celebrity Rights Act for another 70 years. However, her depiction of Princess Leia was apparently transferred by contract to Lucasfilm Ltd. when she starred in the first Star Wars film at the age of 19.
  • Along with her other principal Star Wars actors, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, Ms. Fisher agreed to take a percentage of the movie’s profits, plus a take of TV screenings, re-releases and more. Therefore, these residual profit rights will presumably be inherited by Billie Lourd.
  • Carrie Fisher was involved with a number of charitable causes during her lifetime. Her will or trust may therefore include bequests for charitable causes.
  • While Congress and the new administration are considering a repeal of the federal estate tax, any such legislation will likely be effective no earlier than January 1, 2017. Therefore, the portion of Ms. Fisher’s estate that exceeds the 2016 estate tax exemption amount of $5.45 million will be subject to a federal estate tax at the rate of 40%.

Because of their notoriety, the estates of well-known celebrities are often illustrative of many issues that many people face in their estate planning. Only time will tell if important lessons will emerge from the Estate of Carrie Fisher.

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