In our last post, we wrote about the general fiduciary duties of executors and administrators in dealing with the assets of the decedent. Now, two of the most famous names in American show business are involved in an estate lawsuit brought by the trustee of a family trust that is intended to prohibit the use of those names. While the bar in question is located in Illinois, the names of the two singing stars involved in this lawsuit are known throughout Texas, and the legal basis of the lawsuit is based on laws that are the same in Texas as in Illinois.
The bar is called Johnny & June’s, an obvious reference to country singer Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash. The lawsuit has been commenced by the John R. Cash Revocable Trust against the bar and its owners to prevent the bar’s owners from using the famous names and images of the couple to promote their business without first having obtained permission of the John R. Cash Revocable Trust. The complaint also alleges that the bar is using images of Cash and Carter without the trust’s permission. Both Cash and Carter died four months apart in 2003.
The Trust says that it does not object to the use of the names and images of the two singers, but that it objects to their use without permission. Presumable, this permission might have a price tag. For example, a restaurant opened in Nashville that calls itself, “The Johnny Cash Kitchen & Saloon.” The trust has apparently not raised any objection to this use of the name.
As this case make plane, one of the duties of an estate’s personal representative is to guard against unauthorized use of estate assets. In this case, the names and images are important estate assets that are owned by the trust and must be protected.