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Child Actor Blocked Trust Account, Coogan Law: California, New York

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A Coogan Account (Blocked Trust Account) is a law designed to protect child actors. It is law in California, Louisiana, New Mexico, and New York, in which 15% of the minor’s gross wages are withheld by the employer and deposited directly into the Blocked Trust Account.

Jackie Coogan Law History

The Coogan Law is named after child actor Jackie Coogan, who was born on October 26, 1914. He started acting in 1919 in several Charlie Chaplin films, including A Day’s Pleasure (1919) and The Kid (1921). By the time he turned 18, he had already starred in twenty movies with people such as Charlie Chaplin, Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, and Harry Carey. By 1924, his net worth was almost $2 million (about $27 million in 2015). By the time he reached adulthood in 1932, he had earned about $4 million. The problem is that his mother spent most of that money. After an extended legal battle, he finally received a payout of about $100,000 in 1938.

In 1939, the California Legislature passed the Coogan law, which has designed to protect the assets obtained by child actors. The law was modified on January 1, 2000. It states that the earnings are the property of the minor, not the parent, and that the court is responsible to oversee the funds until the actors are of legal age.

Famous Child Actors

This protection is only valid in California, Louisiana, New Mexico, and New York. It protected famous child actors, such as: Haley Joel Osment, Drew Barrymore, Macaulay Culkin, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Christina Ricci, Raven-Symoné, Jaden Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jodie Foster, and Miranda Cosgrove.

Coogan Law Violations

There have been well-known violations of the Coogan Law.

Macaulay Culkin Court Case

Macaulay Culkin’s parents had a bitter and expensive divorce in which his earnings were used to fund the court proceedings. In 1997, Macaulay took his parents to court and was able to have his assets moved to the protection of an accountant by the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Gary Coleman Court Case

Gary Coleman earned almost $18 million as a child actor for six seasons on Diff’rent Strokes. His adoptive parents setup a Coogan account, but structured the trust so that they were paid employees. By the time the court disolved the trust, the parents were worth three times as much as Gary. Coleman did sue for an additional $3.8 million to recoup some of the losses.

Bindi Irwin and the Coogan Law

Bindi Irwin is the 17 year old daughter of Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin who died in 2006 from a stingray. She is also a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. Because of California laws, like the Coogan Act, which protect child actors and entertainers, the court must provide oversight of any contracts and distribution of funds. Parents of a child actor can waive their rights to any portion of the earnings by signing a quitclaim. Teri Irwin, her mother, has done so, but Steve Irwin is unavailable. Because of this, the court was unable to process the quitclaim.

The Coogan Law is not perfect. There have been problems in the past, and there will be problems in the future. It’s main purpose is to protect the assets of a child actor, and it has provided many of those protections.

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