When a celebrity passes away, it looks as though money left behind may be only the beginning of the estate’s wealth. This is because a star’s death can result in an influx of nostalgia buying. That just may be the case for Chuck Berry—he could leave his heirs billionaires, starting with his first studio album in 40 years.
Chuck Berry left about $15-$20 million behind, which he built up by working deep into old age. Chuck was still touring in his mid-80s. He never really retired. Therefore, with cash coming in, he never really spent down his liquid assets, as if he’d retired earlier.
His wife Themetta can claim at least half of the cash and a 50% share in the intellectual property. She’ll get much more if a will is located. She was married to him for 68 years. As a result, there was no expensive divorce settlement in Berry’s past, meaning that his net worth could grow over the decades.
When self-made millionaires keep operating the “family business” until they die, their heirs want to know how to turn the enterprise into cash.
Chuck Berry wrote about 1,400 songs under his name. These songs were recorded 6,600 times by various artists. Unlike many mid-century music pioneers, he also kept the publishing rights. Each time anyone records “Maybellene” or anything in his catalog, his standing arrangement demanded 9-10 cents per unit sold.
Licensing the actual tracks for advertising cost more.
Chuck was also working on his first album of new material since 1979. Finished or not, if it’s sold as a memorial, it’ll probably sell like David Bowie’s final release, which generated about $700,000 for the Starman’s estate in the first week.
The Berry catalog could be an annuity for his great-grandchildren’s grandchildren, sort of like a dynastic trust. His intellectual property could generate millions of dollars a year in licensing, merchandising and images. This is very similar to what drives Elvis’ or Jimi Hendrix’s estate.
Reference: Trust Advisor (March 20, 2017) “Who’ll Reap The Millions From Chuck Berry’s Final Album?”