A Lesson in Estate Planning from David Bowie
Few pop stars have endured or left a legacy as diverse and successful as that of David Bowie. He died last week of liver cancer, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his latest album, Blackstar. He was inventive and cutting edge; the fans who transcended generations adored him. Those who didn’t know what to make of the androgynous pop star nevertheless remained fascinated by his ever-evolving, iconic personas. Over more than 50 years, he produced an extraordinary body of work that spanned music and film.
Bowie amassed considerable wealth
Bowie died a very wealthy man—his estate is worth an estimated $100M—and that’s before the inevitable spike in sales that will continue with his death. (In the 6 years since Michael Jackson’s death, his estate has grossed nearly $2B.) Yet in the 70s and 80s, Bowie struggled financially, reportedly nearing bankruptcy.
A brilliant plan for creating—and sustaining--wealth: Bowie Bonds
With the help of an investment banker, Bowie developed a brilliant plan for creating and sustaining wealth: Bowie sold a stake in his catalog of music. Instead of outright selling his songwriting, performance and licensing rights to his many successful songs, Bowie created “Bowie Bonds.” These allowed him to sell – for $55M– a 10-year investment, which operated like an annuity, providing a fixed-rate of return of 7.9%. The payouts were secured by all of his royalties and copyrights from the music. Prudential Insurance purchased the Bowie Bonds and was paid off in full during the 10-year timeframe. The Bowie Bonds transaction provided tax savings and ensured that his estate would benefit from his music catalogue.
Apparently Bowie was motivated by the desire to protect his family---his wife, Iman, their daughter, and a son from a former marriage. He had apparently always been interested in estate planning and wanted to make sure his assets passed on to his loved ones.
Bowie likely used one or more Revocable or Irrevocable Trusts
Given Bowie’s careful attention to financial planning, it’s likely that he used one or more Revocable or Irrevocable Trusts. In this way, he could have maximized the value of assets with the lowest tax consequences, but his assets could also pass privately, without the public scrutiny that accompanies Probate Court, which is the case with those who do not create a Living Trust.
Bowie’s final wishes
It was just revealed that Bowie’s $100M fortune will be distributed among his family and several loyal employees. Iman will receive half of his fortune as well as their Soho apartment; his children will each receive an estimated $25M. Bowie was a longtime Buddhist and requested that he be cremated in Bali in accordance with Buddhist rituals. He noted that if that was not practical, he could be cremated elsewhere, with his ashes scattered in Bali. The Bali cremation may have been problematic, for Bowie was cremated in New Jersey, but we can assume that his family scattered his ashes in Bali, according to Bowie’s final wishes.