A blocked trust account, or Coogan account, is a court-administered trust fund designed to protect the earnings of child actors, athletes and other child performers until they become adults. The parent or guardian has control over the account as the trustee. No withdrawals are allowed, however, until the child turns 18.
The California Child Actor's Bill was originally passed in 1939 in reaction to the predicament of Jackie Coogan, the famed child actor of the 1920s. Also remembered as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family sitcom of the 1960s, Coogan earned millions as a child actor. Upon reaching adulthood, he discovered most of his earnings had been spent by his mother and stepfather. In a suit by Coogan in 1936 to recover his earnings, his mother's defense was "every dollar a kid earns before he is 21 belongs to his parents." Her claim to Coogan's earnings as the parent, rooted in English Common Law, remains the rule rather than the exception in most states even today. Coogan's legal battle brought the public's attention to the plight of child actors, which resulted in the California Child Actor's Bill, or Coogan Law.
Current Coogan Law
As of publication, Coogan accounts are required by California, New York, Louisiana and New Mexico. In most instances, you are required to provide proof of a trust account before receiving a work permit for your child. You must supply the Coogan account number to the employer. The employer, in turn, is required to withhold 15 percent of all of your child's gross earnings. These sums must be deposited into a Coogan account within 15 days of employment. The Coogan Law includes minors employed as actors, actresses, dancers, musicians, comedians, singers, stunt-persons, voice-over artists, songwriters, composers, conductors, designers and participants or players in sports. Each of the four states has variations to the Coogan law. You can learn more about the Coogan Law by visiting "A Minor Consideration" website. This non-profit organization gives guidance and support to young performers.
Opening a Coogan Trust Account
You'll probably save yourself some aggravation by opening an account with a financial institution experienced in Coogan accounts. The Screen Actors Guild strongly recommends that you compare financial institutions to find the best one for your needs. SAG's list of financial institutions offering Coogan accounts include: AFTRA/SAG Federal Credit Union, Actors Federal Credit Union, Bank of America, Bank of the West, City National Bank,, First Entertainment Credit Union, Morgan Stanley/Smith Barney, Union Bank of California, and Wells Fargo.
Minors Under the FLSA
As a general rule, the Fair Labor Standards Act child labor rules do not apply to minors employed as actors or performers in motion pictures, theatrical, radio or television productions. Many states compete for film production by promoting their lack of labor laws for children in entertainment. If you reside in one of the 46 states where Coogan-type laws do not apply, you should inform yourself of your state's laws governing employment restrictions of minors. Further, you are not prevented from opening a blocked trust account for your child performer even though your state may not require it.
- Life – Google Books: The Strange Case of Jackie Coogan's $4,000,000, Page 50
- ExpertLaw: Child Labor Law; Whose Earnings Are They?
- SAG-AFTRA One Union: Coogan Law
- United States Department of Labor: FLSA - Child Labor Rules Advisor
- University of Pennsylvania Journal of Labor and Employment Law: There's No Business Like Show Business: Child Entertainers and the Law, Jessica Krieg [Go to pages 430 and 431 for my reference]
- Mike Powell/Lifesize/Getty Images