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IRS fighting with executors over taxes on Michael Jackson's estate

Benjamin Franklin famously quipped that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In the case of famous pop star Michael Jackson, taxes remain a contentious issue nearly five years after his death.

More specifically, the executors of Jackson’s estate are in a battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the estate-tax return. The heart of the matter in this case is two vastly differing estimates of the worth of Jackson’s estate. In 2009, Jackson’s executors said his net worth was just over $7 million. The IRS, on the other hand, believes it is worth closer to $1.25 billion. As such, the government is seeking some $702 million in taxes and penalties.

It is actually somewhat rare when the IRS requires an estate-tax return filing because they are generally reserved for very valuable estates. In 2012, for instance, only 9,400 estate-tax returns were filed with the IRS. Even rarer are the returns that end up in tax court after being audited.

But the IRS seems to have taken issue with the values assigned to many of Jackson’s assets, including the singer’s image and likeness for merchandising purposes. It is unclear if Jackson’s likeness is worth more than $434 million as the IRS claims. But it certainly seems worth much more than the $2,105 appraisal given by his estate.

It is not uncommon for celebrity estates to be disputed. They are usually valuable enough to warrant close scrutiny. But the disputes are more likely to be between family members than between executors and the IRS.

Close to five years after Michael Jackson’s death, nearly every aspect of the pop icon’s life remains mired in controversy. And because neither the IRS nor Jackson’s executors seem ready to back down, the battle over his estate might prove to be one of the more enduring parts of his legacy.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Michael Jackson estate embroiled in tax fight with IRS," Jeff Gottlieb, Feb. 7, 2014

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