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In Monroe case, place of estate administration crucial to heirs

When planning your estate, where you own property can be a big issue if you happen to have assets located in more than one state. This is frequently an issue when someone owns a residence in one place, such as New Jersey, and another home in another state. If you split your time between the two places, or if circumstances at one place or the other indicate that one is your primary residence, the jurisdiction in which your estate administration takes place can become a point of controversy. One such example involves the estate of Marilyn Monroe.

A court on the west coast recently ruled that a company whose photographers took photos of Monroe during her life could continue to sell those photos without paying her estate. When Monroe died in 1962, she owned a home in California as well as an apartment in New York. Although Monroe died in her California home, she maintained a staff in her New York apartment during the same period.

When her estate was first administered after her death, her representatives established New York residency to avoid paying inheritance taxes in California. But California has a law protecting posthumous rights of publicity which would have given the estate a shot at proceeds from the photos. The court ruled that the estate cannot now try to change residency to take advantage of the law that the estate was passed in 2007.

Upon Monroe's death, her acting coach Lee Strasburg inherited the bulk of her estate and was named executor. When he died, his wife took over as representative of Monroe's estate. She is the one who sued the California company for the proceeds in 2005. The court noted that Monroe is third on Forbes list of 'Top-Earning Dead Celebrities,' earning $27 million in revenue.

Due to tax considerations and differences in state laws, it can be beneficial to an estate to try to designate where the venue for estate administration, using the appropriate estate planning measures. As Monroe's case underscores, even where the death occurs is not necessarily the determining factor. Someone who maintains a residence in New Jersey but has significant ties or assets in another state should be especially vigilant in obtaining advice about which venue would be most beneficial to the estate for all the current and future assets and earnings.

Source: NBC Chicago, "Court: Monroe's estate can't block photo sales," Paul Elias, Aug. 31, 2012

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