The music world has been buzzing ever since the surprise appearance of Tupac Shukar – well, that is, a digitally-created 3-D image of Tupac – on stage to rap at the Coachella music festival in California. Some have described this as creepy, like seeing a ghost. Is this going to be a new trend for celebrity estates? How can you use this story, which everyone is talking about, and relate it to your clients and prospects?
Let’s start with the issue of whether this holograph stuff is even legal. Were Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg allowed to bring Tupac's image on stage? Because this was a use of Tupac's image and likeness for commercial purposes, only the holder of the "right of publicity" for Tupac could authorize it. That right is owned by Tupac's estate, under the control of the executor, his mother, Afeni Shakur.
Reportedly, she not only authorized it, but was thrilled with the outcome. Dr. Dre repaid the estate for this permission with a contribution to the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which is Tupac's charity.
Dr. Dre has already said he'd love to bring out other dead celebrities to perform with him, like Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye. Michael Jackson's brothers are planning a reunion tour next year, and hope to have a holographic version of the King of Pop join the tour.
And we certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Whitney Houston's estate take advantage of what could be a new trend in celebrity estates, based on the reports of how much debt her estate has. Celebrity estates could profit handsomely by allowing the use of holographic images, given how much excitement Tupac's appearance generated.
Who's next? Elvis? Marilyn Monroe? Maybe Amy Winehouse? They all rank highly on Trial & Heirs' list of top Twitter accounts of deceased celebrities. So their estates are already putting words into their mouths through social media, mostly to promote commercial endeavors and raise money for the estates. It's certainly not a stretch to envision holographic performances next.
The Michael Jackson estate will be an interesting one to keep an eye on. Unlike many other celebrity musicians who passed away, his estate is controlled not by his family, but by professionals. The Ray Charles estate is another example. Both have featured court fights between the family and those in charge. With those estates, the executors – not the family members – have the right to agree to a holographic performance, whether the family members like it or not.
It's no easy task to balance the desire to profit from a late musician's image and the concern of crossing the line into exploiting that image in ways that would leave the performer spinning in his grave. Even family members can often disagree over this line.
For example, the Bob Marley estate has seen lots of fighting over this very issue, including a recent lawsuit by the estate, controlled by Marley's mother, suing one of his half-brothers. That case involves the right to sell Mama Marley fish products and use the Marley name in connection with a popular music festival. The Jimi Hendrix estate faced similar court fights between half-siblings, one of which involved "Electric Hendrix Vodka."
Fights like this happen when the person placed in charge of an estate or trust doesn’t make decisions that the rest of the heirs agree with. Of course, with something as controversial as a hologram – which some have described as nothing more than a ghost, exploited for financial gain – these fights take on added significance.
These are some great conversation starters you can have with your clients and prospects. You can even relate them to their own situations, even though they’re not famous and don't have to worry about holograms.
How? Your clients have names and reputations that will live on after they’re gone. For business owners, there is the added concern of their reputation being properly managed through their business after they pass away.
Who do your clients want to control their legacy after they pass? Do they want that person to treat their heirs honorably, as your client would have liked? Does your client want his or her business to be managed in a way that would make them proud?
These are legitimate concerns that many people don't stop and think about when doing their estate planning. Creating a will or trust is more than simply deciding who gets what.
Choosing the right person to manage the estate, trust or business after your client dies is critical, both for your clients, their loved ones and often for their reputations. Putting the right person in charge can make all the difference between tainting their legacy, and having their wishes and goals followed the way they want.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.