Many of the rights that you have in life can be transferred to someone else after you pass away. Publicity rights are one of them. You have a right to use your name and likeness for commercial purposes and to prevent other people from using them. For example, no one could use your name in an advertisement without your consent to make it sound like you are endorsing the product. These rights can be left to your heirs. This is the reason that you do not see hundreds of advertisements featuring Marilyn Monroe’s likeness. Advertisers that want to use Marilyn must get permission and pay a licensing fee.
Publicity rights and estates are in the news lately because of a lawsuit over how much Madonna and her touring company should pay to Marlon Brando’s estate for her mention of Brando in the song “Vogue.” If you remember the song, then you probably remember that Madonna mentions a lot of celebrities in the song. Every time that she performs the song, she pays the celebrities’ estates thousands of dollars.
It is too early to know how the litigation will turn out and it actually turns on contract law, not estate law. However, it does illustrate that there are many different rights that you can leave to your heirs.