Michael Jackson’s tax bill: Off the Wall? Bad? Can they ‘Beat it’?

Michael Jackson spent over forty years singing, dancing and "weird-ing" his way to owning the title "King of Pop". Michael was six years old when he debuted as part of the Jackson 5 in 1964 and was 24 when he dropped the album "Thriller" and the ground-breaking videos for "Beat It", "Billy Jean" and "Thriller". Michael recoded 13 number-one singles and won 13 Grammy Awards during his prolific career and "Thriller" remains the best-selling album of all time. Sadly, Michael died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication on June 25, 2009. He was 50 years old.

An estate tax return was due for the estate of Michael Jackson on March 29, 2010 (which was probably extended to September 29, 2010). This return listed the assets owned by Mr. Jackson at the time of his death and included valuations on each asset. As you can imagine, Mr. Jackson’s estate probably owned some things that many of us will own when we die: bank accounts, automobiles, real estate, etc. Mr. Jackson also owned some things that were unique to his celebrity status and his profession: recording rights, rights to his likeness and image, his endorsement deals with Pepsi and other corporate sponsors, etc.

The Internal Revenue Service has charged the Jackson estate with undervaluing the assets on the estate tax return, as the estate reported a taxable estate of $7 million. The IRS has sent the estate a tax deficiency notice for $702 million ($505.1 million in taxes and $196.9 million in penalties). The primary arguments surround the estate’s valuation of Mr. Jackson’s likeness and image (valued by the estate at $2,105 and by the IRS at $434 million) and the value of some of Mr. Jackson’s recording contracts owned by "MJ/ATV Publishing Trust Interest in New Horizon Trust II" (valued at $469 million by the IRS and not listed on the estate tax return.)

Most of the audits we come across on estate tax returns feature disagreements over the valuation of assets. When filing these returns, it is often wise to obtain a written appraisal of real property and business interests and then discuss the valuations of these assets (for return purposes) with a tax professional. The IRS has provided a good deal of guidance when it comes to properly valuing assets, following this guidance may save the taxpayer’s family from the headaches (and financial costs) of an IRS audit and appeal.

It is uncommon that the IRS disagrees with tax assessments by over $900 million, as is the case with Mr. Jackson’s estate. It will be interesting to see how the arguments over the value of Mr. Jackson’s assets plays out on TMZ and it will be equally interesting to see the justifications used by the estate and the IRS regarding the valuation of Michael’s likeness.

Two final notes about Michael Jackson: First, today would have been his 55th birthday, so happy birthday Michael. Second, it looks like he has got some new music on the way:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76VC2Dsy1SU