Marilyn Monroe’s Estate Doesn’t Own Her
The Ninth Circuit has struck down an argument made by the pop icon’s estate that it is entitled to royalties from a California company selling her images. The issue turned on—of all things—whether Monroe was domiciled in California or New York at the time of her death. While California law recognizes a descendible, posthumous right of publicity, a person’s right of publicity in New York extinguishes at death. Because Monroe’s executor represented for the length of her probate proceeding that Monroe died a domiciliary of New York—supposedly to avoid “substantial California estate taxes”—the Ninth Circuit declared the estate judicially estopped from subsequently asserting claims under California’s right of publicity statute. The decision serves as a cautionary tale for celebrity estate planning, showing that short-sighted tax maneuvers could result in the loss of substantive rights.