Written by William E. Keenen

Under U.S. law, a tax generally is imposed whenever one individual gratuitously transfers an interest in property to another. This tax is computed on the value of the property interest transferred, whether during one’s life (to which the gift tax applies) or at one’s death (to which the estate tax applies). In some instances, a discount in the value of an interest in property may be taken by a donor or the executor of an estate when filing a gift or estate tax return, as the case may be. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided Estate of Elkins v. Commissioner [767 F.3d 443 (5th Cir. 2014)] in which the court considered discounts to establish the value of fractional interests in artwork.

When James Elkins, son of the founding partner of the Vinson and Elkins law firm, died, he owned fractional interests in 64 very valuable works of art. Mr. Elkins and his wife had accumulated the artwork over the course of their marriage, which constituted the couple’s community property under the laws of Texas, where they resided during their marriage. Prior to Mr. Elkins’ death, the artwork had been maintained in his home, his office, the homes and offices of his children as well as on display in various public places. Mr. and Mrs. Elkins each settled a so-called grantor retained income trust (a GRIT) to which each of them transferred his or her respective interests in three works of art, which the Tax Court termed the “GRIT Art”. The other 61 pieces, which, for the reasons discussed next, were referred to by the Tax Court as the “Disclaimer Art”, were owned outright by Mr. and Mrs. Elkins.


Continue Reading Determining the IRS’s Fair Share: Considering Discounts to Establish the Value of Interests in Artwork for U.S. Transfer Tax Purposes

The artist resale royalty right, what in Europe is often called the droit de suite, is a form of intellectual property right that allows primarily visual artists (who produce work in single objects or limited editions) with a right to receive a percentage of the purchase price when their works are resold. The resale royalty’s purpose is to allow artists to share in the increased value of their work over time. Each time a work is sold for a higher price than was originally paid for the work, a percentage of that sale price is required to be paid to the artist or the artist’s estate or heirs. Typically, the resale royalty falls within copyright law (and is provided for in the Berne Convention, Art. 14ter), and attempts to bring the visual artist’s rights into closer alignment with the rights of authors and recording artists, where the right to receive royalties is not cut off at the time of the original sale of a work or a copy. Although the droit de suite originated in France, it has been widely incorporated into copyright law in Europe and elsewhere. Currently, more than seventy countries provide in some measure for a resale royalty.1 However, it is not currently incorporated into U.S. copyright law. That may be changing.    
Continue Reading Droit de Suite: California Resale Royalty Revisited