John Elroy Sanford, an American comedian and actor known by his stage name Redd Foxx died in October 1991 aged 68. Redd died intestate owing $3.6 million in taxes
Redd left home around the age of 13 to become a performer. After struggling for many years Redd found fame as a stand up comedian who honed his act in black nightclubs during the 1940s and 1950s.
In the mid-1950s, he began recording his routines. He became known as “King of the party records” selling more than 20 million albums. In the 1960s, he was a top Las Vegas nightclub act making his first television appearance in 1964.
In the 1970’s the British television show Steptoe & Son was remade in the United States as Sanford & Son. Redd played Fred Sanford a grumpy junk dealer in Watts California.Not only was the show successful with television audiences being one of the top ten highest-rated series on American television Sandford and Son was groundbreaking as it featured an African American family. After the show was cancelled Redd enjoyed a less successful television career while still headlining Las Vegas nightclubs.
When he died Redd lived in Las Vegas, as he died without a Will Foxx’s daughter, Debraca Foxx, was appointed as the administrator of his estate. Redd had been married four times and his fourth wife and widow, Ka Ho Foxx, accused Debraca of failing to provide accounts of revenue received in royalties, residuals and licensing deals since her father’s death. Ka Ho believed that Debracca had been taking money for herself that should have gone toward paying down the estates tax debt.
Due to this family infighting, in 2006 the Nevada probate court appointed the public administrator to administer the estate. The administrator stated that his goal was to
“settle Redd’s estate pay all taxes owed and get money for his heirs”
Interestingly the estates major asset, are the rights to Redd’s life story. Nevada allows for the marketing of someone’s “right of publicity,” defined in the law as the ability to use a “name, voice, signature, photograph or likeness” of anyone for commercial purposes.
However, while the estate owns the right to profit from Foxx’s name, image and likeness, it may not own the rights for a “life story”. It has also been reported that Ka Ho objects to the marketing of Redd’s life story to anyone but her and plans to go to court to stop this from happening.
If Redd had prepared a Will he may have avoided this problem. He could have appointed an executor, (this might have stopped the infighting between his only heirs) and provided instructions regarding his life story including assigning it’s rights.
Remember a Will is a planning document that allows you to decide how your assets will be distributed, you may not want to make one but if you don’t it is your family, friends and loved ones that will be making these decisions with little in the way of guidance from you.