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Houston's Death Shines a Light on Posthumous Earning Potential

The death of singer Whitney Houston late last week has sparked renewed interest in the entertainer's music. Her best-known song "I Will Always Love You" quickly became the most-downloaded song on iTunes on the eve of the Grammy Awards. But even before the singer's funeral could take place or the cause of her death could be established, speculation had already begun about what it would mean for her estate's earnings. After all, many musicians have experienced something of a morbid career renaissance after their deaths.

Many celebrities continue to generate income long after their deaths thanks to books, recordings or even the use of their likeness to sell products. Michael Jackson, no stranger to creating successful music himself, also had a large stake in a music publishing company that continues to be profitable for his estate. Elizabeth Taylor's fragrance business will live on even though the actress does not.

While most non-celebrities will not have potential income after death from songs or movies, they very well might from a business or other investments they had contributed to during their lifetime. Careful estate planning with an experienced estate planning attorney could make the difference between successfully transitioning that income to successor businesses, trusts or individuals, or risk losing it due to inadequate preparations.

As for Houston, her future income potential might be somewhat stunted. While her estate will make money from sales of her recordings, many of her most famous songs were written by others, who will stand to profit as much if not more from increased sales and airplay. A large windfall, in fact, will go to Dolly Parton, who wrote and recorded "I Will Always Love You" decades before Houston ever sang it.

Source: The Washington Post, " Whitney Houston's death sparks outpouring that will benefit estate though questions remain," Feb. 14, 2012