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Erin Pearson
Erin Pearson
February 28, 2020

John Leslie Coogan, or Jackie Coogan, was a child actor who was discovered by Charles Chaplin and worked with him in the famous silent film “The Kid”.

The Kid is perhaps Chaplin’s most potent marriage of comedy and high emotion. The story relates how an unmarried mother abandons a baby, which is found and unwillingly adopted by the Tramp. As the child matures to five or six years old, the two form a profitable business partnership: the boy goes around breaking windows, and his friend follows, earning an honest living by mending them again. The Tramp ferociously opposes the efforts of social workers to take the boy into public care, and finally, he is reunited with his mother, now a successful opera singer.

History of the Coogan Law

“Jackie” Coogan was a major child star in the 1920s (creating 19 films before his 18th birthday) and raked in an estimated 3-4 million dollars in that time. Unfortunately, for him, under California law at the time, the earnings of the minor belonged solely to the parent. When he was 21 and after his father died, Coogan discovered that he was left with none of his earnings. Eventually, Coogan sued his mother and his manager for, essentially, stealing millions of dollars from him and afterward was rewarded only $126,000. The lawsuit resulted in the California Child Actor’s Bill or the Coogan Law. It is because of John Leslie Coogan, that parents/guardians are required to open a Coogan account or a blocked trust account for their children working in the entertainment industry. The Coogan law was enacted in 1939, but with so many loopholes not much changed for child actors until 2000 when the law was changed and the loopholes were written out. Once again, it seems an amendment may soon be made with the growth of social media marketing and child influencers. As of this moment, there are no clearly defined laws to protect children’s earnings when they are involved in social media marketing. Currently, only 4 states (California, New York, New Mexico, and Louisiana) require Coogan Accounts to protect children’s wages. With the rapid growth of Social Media Marketing across the nation, I wouldn’t be surprised if this changes in the coming years.

How to Open a Coogan Account

Opening a Coogan minor blocked account is relatively simple. You typically need your child’s Social Security number, birth certificate and proof of your identity. There may also be a fee and deposit required when you open an account. The actual requirements depend on the bank, credit union or brokerage firm you choose. But different financial institutions have different requirements. For example: to open a Wells Fargo blocked trust account, your child must either be currently employed or have an offer of employment. Your child cannot just be signed by a talent agent to open a Wells Fargo blocked trust account and you must open it in person. But, at Bank of America, you can apply for a Coogan trust account online. You just need to enter personal information for you and your child, including Social Security numbers and your address. However, you’ll have to open a Coogan trust account at Bank of America in person if you wish to make a large initial deposit or have a limited credit history.

Since each financial institution has different requirements, your best bet is to do your research on the banks, brokerage firms or credit unions that would best suit you and your child. Here is a partial list to help get you started:

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

Wells Fargo Court blocked accounts

How much goes into a Coogan Trust Fund Account

At this time, the Coogan law requires that only 15% of earnings go into the blocked trust account for the child.

In most instances, you will have to supply proof of a trust account prior to receiving a work permit. 15% of the minor’s gross wages are required to be withheld by the employer and deposited into the Coogan account within 15 days of employment. The parent must supply the Coogan account number to the employer.

SAG-AFTRA Foundation

Find a California work permit here. Check with your state government to get access to the proper entertainment work permit for minors.

What Producers should know about the Coogan Law

As far as a producer is concerned, your job is relatively simple. It is entirely the parent or guardian’s responsibility to open the Coogan blocked trust account and get the child his or her work permit. All you need to do is notify Topsheet that you have a minor working on your project and then have the parents send us an email containing the child’s work permit and Coogan bank account information. We will ensure that the 15% minimum is placed directly in the trust fund.

Image Credit: Coffee Painting by 3939mike and Pencil Drawing by Diane_Derib

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