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Estate planning issues beside the Field of Dreams

With Game 5 of the World Series set for tonight, Red Sox fans in New England and across the nation will be turning their thoughts once again to the baseball diamond.

As important as the game is, it is not life or death. But given the rich literature about baseball, it is not that difficult to find a connection between baseball literature and estate planning issues.

Consider, in particular, the celebrated baseball novel "Shoeless Joe." One of the characters in that book is the reclusive author J.D. Salinger, who died a few years ago at age 91. The estate tax issue that Salinger's case raises concerns the valuation and taxation of his literary estate.

Salinger's 1951 novel of teenage angst, "The Catcher in the Rye," became a publishing phenomenon. It sold more than 60 million copies and heavily influenced popular culture for decades to come.

In 1989, in the film "Field of Dreams," based on the novel "Shoeless Joe," Salinger's influence still echoed. In the film, Kevin Costner's character wants to go to Boston, hoping somehow to commune with an author who is based on the character of J.D. Salinger.

Even today, "Catcher in the Rye" continues to sell tens of thousands of copies a year. And all of those book sales of course have estate planning implications. 

In 2008, two years before J.D. Salinger's death, the copyrights to all of Salinger's works were transferred to a literary trust. In his lifetime, Salinger was the sole trustee. After his death, however, he was succeeded by his son and widow.

It remains to be seen how the trust will make use of the copyrights. But it seems certain that a film version of "The Catcher in the Rye," if it were authorized, would find an eagerly interested audience.

Source: Forbes, "Was JD Salinger Facing A Major Estate Tax Problem?" Peter J. Reilly, Oct. 21, 2013

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