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What people can learn from George Carlin’s probate lawsuit

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | Estate And Probate Litigation |

Celebrity probate conflicts often provide very little insight into the needs of the average person. Someone who dies with millions of dollars in property has very different needs than those in average households who may have retirement savings and real property in their name.

However, sometimes the issues that arise during estate administration can teach important lessons about estate planning and probate matters. For example, George Carlin’s estate just recently settled a lawsuit that is one of the first of its kind. The lawsuit related to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create an hour-long stand-up show featuring the deceased comedian’s voice and likeness.

What can this lawsuit teach the average family about what happens during probate and what estate planning issues they need to address?

Protecting a legacy takes careful planning

An individual’s legacy is not just what property they leave for others when they die. How people remember them is their true final legacy. Therefore, the representation of a deceased person online could be of serious concern for those grieving someone who died.

The need to address a person’s legacy beyond their property may soon begin to filter down into modern estate planning endeavors. In some cases, this practice has already taken hold. For example, people have begun including social media clauses in their estate plans. They leave their digital resources including their social media platform to specific people who can manage it in their memory.

The more influential someone has become and the more of a presence they have online, the more important it may be to include terms about the use of someone’s likeness after their death. Controlling how people represent an individual is important. In the case of the George Carlin AI comedy special, representatives of the estate worried that the jokes made did a disservice to the memory of the famous comedian.

In the future, the creation of other digital videos and footage could trickle down to affect even members of the general public. People could create AI videos that damage someone’s reputation and confuse their friends and family. People planning an estate may need to specifically include terms addressing their likeness and the use of any video footage, audio recording or photographs for the production of AI works. Additionally, estate representatives and families need to be proactive about monitoring content online even years after someone dies to identify violations when they occur.

Addressing changing technological and social matters in an estate plan can help preserve someone’s legacy for decades to come. People planning their estates and those with influential loved ones may need to consider this issue carefully when it comes time to create or update an estate plan.

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