Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson's financial Thriller still climbing the charts

Michael Jackson has long been a source of awe and wonder for financial planning types.

Anyone would be who, as The New York Times reported a while back, builds an estimated fortune of $500 million, then runs it into the ground by outspending income by maybe $20 million to $30 million a year until some serious head-scratching by big banks and private equity companies is needed to figure it out.

Now another chapter is opening. Hours after Jackson was stricken - and even before his death was confirmed - online prices for his memorabilia began jumping. Tee shirt hawkers seized opportunities too.

But the big money may still be ahead. Celebrities, and particularly pop and film stars, often continue making money after their deaths. Elvis led a list of 20 that Forbes compiled a few years ago. Observers of the glitterati have been speculating for years how Jackson might compare.

Given both the complexity of Jackson's financial affairs and an astonishing array of memorabilia that may be poised to hit the market, the only sure prediction seems to be that the headlines will be breathless.

There are lessons for us mere mortals in all this too.

Income must exceed outgo or upkeep will be our downfall, an old saying goes. We get that. We're all somewhere in the same boat Jackson was before his death. We simply see fewer zeroes on the loan statements and payment checks we deal with.

And many of our financial lives will continue after our deaths too. We have spouses to provide for, kids to put through college or grandkids, maybe a business to pass on or a good cause we'd like to help. Fewer than half of us have made any plans to do any of that, estate planners estimate. More than 75 percent of us worry how our families will fare financially if we were to die now, the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education calculates.

Both are easy fixes. Start now.

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