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Estate Planning: The Livin' Is Easy for Gershwins' Heirs


Porgy and Bess have new life on Broadway--but it's not all about the music. The heirs of George and Ira Gershwin, as well as descendents of other famous but long-deceased composers, have been busy in recent decades polishing old music into new moneymaking opportunities in New York and elsewhere.

In the case of the Gershwin brothers, neither of whom had children themselves, it is mostly the nieces, nephews and their children who have been reaping the benefits. George Gershwin died in 1937 without a will, but despite a lack of estate planning, music written by him and his brother (who died in 1983) continues to make millions of dollars for the Gershwin family today.

The issue at hand is copyright protection. If a newly adapted production like "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess," as it is being called, gains a new copyright, the show can be licensed to groups to perform it and earn license fees for decades to come because it would be considered a new work. One similar effort, featuring old Gershwin songs and a new story, won a Tony Award 20 years ago.

While most people will not have a portfolio of songs to license for future decades of performances, estate planning is still a crucial component of a strategy to make sure that the wishes of the deceased are carried out and that their heirs are properly provided for. An attorney who is well versed in the nuances of estate and probate cases can be an invaluable resource for those who need assistance.

Source: The New York Times, "The Songs Remain the Same, but Broadway Heirs Call the Shots," Patrick Healy, Jan. 9, 2012