Your child is auditioning regularly in the hopes of landing a paying gig. The next step is to make sure you have everything in place to satisfy production and protect your child’s earnings, which means you’ll need to have valid work permits and a blocked trust (or Coogan) account. Plan in advance; don’t wait until your child books a job to look into everything.
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Minors working professionally are often required to obtain a work permit to ensure their employment does not harm their health or education. State laws regarding work permits vary widely, so check with your state of residence and, if different, the state where your child is performing to see what’s required.
Work permits are usually issued by a state’s department of labor. In New York, it is possible to get a one-time, fifteen-day temporary work permit if your child is suddenly cast and has not previously been issued a work permit in the state of New York. In California, it is a one-time, ten-day permit. However, I recommend that you apply for a work permit as soon as your child is ready to pursue professional roles, especially if they will be auditioning in New York or California. Most states issue an initial six-month work permit.
What you will need: A birth certificate and documentation of satisfactory school attendance, school performance, and health signed by a principal or school administrator. If a child is homeschooled, a parent can complete the educational form along with an affidavit from the school responsible for overseeing their child’s educational program. For more information on work permits, visit sagaftra.org.
Blocked Trust/Coogan Accounts
In the 1920s, Jackie Coogan became the first major child actor in America to earn millions of dollars. When he became an adult, he discovered his parents had spent most of his money. Coogan battled his mother in court and was able to recover a small portion of his earnings, but the legal battle resulted in the 1939 enactment of the California Child Actor’s Bill, often referred to as the “Coogan Law” or the “Coogan Act,” and requires that a child actor’s employer set aside 15 percent of the earnings in a trust.
In states other than California, a Coogan account is legally known as a blocked trust account. The stipulations are the same—15 percent of a minor actor’s earnings until they reach adulthood—and is required in California, New York, Louisiana, and New Mexico. New York calls their accounts UMTA or UGMA Compliant Trust accounts, while Louisiana and New Mexico both refer to them as blocked trust accounts but vary in the requirements for setting them up. Each state has specific requirements for these accounts.
If your child needs a blocked trust account, start by consulting with your financial advisor and local banks. Not all banks offer blocked trust accounts for minors, and even some that do have employees who are not familiar with them. Explore several options to find an account with the best interest rate.
The following national banks provide blocked trust/Coogan accounts: SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union, Actors Federal Credit Union, Bank of the West, City National Bank, First Entertainment Credit Union, Morgan Stanley/Smith Barney, Union Bank of California, and Wells Fargo. Each bank has different requirements for opening these accounts. Most require your child’s name, social security number, certified birth certificate, and proof of your identity along with the initial deposit.
Once you have established a blocked trust account, ask the bank to immediately provide you with a letter (on letterhead) documenting the following items: The name, full street address, and phone number of the financial institution branch where the account was opened, the date it was opened, the type of the account specified as a blocked trust, and the routing and account numbers. You will also need the signature of the financial representative who set up the account. As soon as you have this letter, make several copies. Store the original in a secure location and provide copies to your child’s agent and manager.
Make sure to monitor the account carefully. It’s not unheard of for money to fall through the cracks with production and not find its way into your child’s account. Don’t rely on your agent or manager to follow up—take control of that by calling the bank to make sure the money is where it should be.