As reported here in Forbes a musician’s highest earnings years may come long after he or she has passed away.  Here’s an excerpt from the linked-to Forbes piece:

A nail in the casket is hardly the end for some stars. Instead, their work, as well as their iconic images, continues to appeal to fans who remember them, and to those born long after they died.

The 13 icons on our sixth annual Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list collectively earned $247 million in the last 12 months. Their estates continue to make money by inking deals involving both their work and the rights to use their name and likenesses on merchandise and marketing campaigns. To land on this year’s list, a star needed to make at least $7 million between October 2005 and October 2006.

Which is why the on-going legal battles involving the Hendrix estate shouldn’t be viewed as an isolated event.  If you’re luck enough to find some success as an artist, what happened to Hendrix’s estate could happen to you.  As reported in Hendrix Estate Wins Effort to Halt Sale of Star’s Songs after soaring to success and then overdosing and dying all by the age of 27, Hendrix also left behind a "world of controversy":

The dispute dates back to 1965. The then-unknown electric guitarist, whose music ushered in a new era in blues rock, signed a one-page recording agreement with PPX Enterprises, an entity controlled by Edward Chalpin and based in New York.

According to Judge Kaplan’s decision, Hendrix agreed to "produce and play and/or sing exclusively for Enterprises" for a three-year period. He gave Enterprise exclusive rights to the masters produced, in exchange for a royalty of 1 percent of the retail selling price of the records so produced.

Hendrix shot to international fame two years later. In June 1967, he performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival and wowed the audience with his rendition of "Wild Thing." His whirlwind success was short lived: He died of a drug overdose in 1970 at the age of 27.


Judge Kaplan noted that after Hendrix’s untimely death the musician "left a body of musical works and world of controversy." Hendrix’s estate and Chalpin and PPX Enterprises, an entity based in New York, have been engaged in a series of lengthy legal battles in Great Britain and the United States over the rights to Hendrix’s songs.

I have no doubt a minimal amount of estate planning would have avoided much of the controversy swirling around the Hendrix estate.  By the way, ASCAP has a good estate-planning primer for musicians at Estate & Trust Planning Issues For Music Copyright Owners. 

I of course recognize that the odds of a twenty-something rock super star sitting down to plan his or her estate are basically zero.  So perhaps the most these die-young super stars can teach us from a planning perspective is to highlight all the things that can go wrong.