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Prince music deal: Step toward tax resolution or controversy?

On this day in history, U.S. Grant won the presidential election of 1868. That's just one little tidbit of trivia that has been recorded and which operations like The Associated Press make available to subscribers.

One other notable recent benchmark that we think went largely unnoticed by nearly everyone in Minnesota and the rest of the country was the birthday of the estate tax. It was on Sept. 8, 1916, that the Revenue Act took effect, establishing the estate tax. And since that time, it has become the source of a great deal of tax controversy.

One of the most prominent figures from the Twin Cities who ever stood at the center of a tax dispute with the IRS has got to be the musical artist Prince. We have written previously about some of his difficulties. And earlier this year we noted that because the late singer died without a will, the tax obligation that could be levied against his estate could be well over $100 million.

The exact amount will depend on how much the total estate is eventually deemed to be worth, but nailing down that number is something the public might never know. Even when deals are made for the sale of assets, the amounts involved aren't necessarily revealed.

This week, for example, the estate and Universal Music Publishing Group announced that the company is purchasing the artist's songwriting rights for an undisclosed price. Under the terms of the deal, the estate will continue to own Prince's songs. Universal will have administrative rights for distribution that could open a stream of revenue that had been limited due to unusually tight controls Prince held over his work.

What that could all mean in terms of taxes now or in the future is worth contemplating. And anyone facing such questions would do well to work with experienced counsel, especially if there is a desire to challenge a tax levy.

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