The Estate of Prince - a Royal Mess - (Part 1)


The Estate of Prince – a Royal Mess (Part 1)

Everybody knows you should have a Will.  Although we caution our clients that having a Will alone will leave many important planning issues unaddressed, not having a Will creates a number of problems that can easily be avoided.  And sadly, according to one survey referenced in a 2015 USA Today article, a staggering 64% of the population has no Will.  See  Even more shocking, there are some very famous well-known individuals who end up dying without a Will despite having ample financial resources to obtain comprehensive estate planning.  The legendary entertainer Prince, who died unexpectedly in April of 2016, is yet another example of that.

When it came to recording studios and music contracts Prince was known to prefer to handle negotiations himself, avoiding the use of entertainment lawyers.  Some now speculate he purposely avoided working with an estate planning lawyer for the same reason.  Or perhaps that is not true and the real reason is that he simply procrastinated until the end like so many other people do.  At this point it does not matter.  The irony is there is probably no better way to saddle your loved ones with tremendous amounts of unnecessary legal fees than dying without a Will.

Now, for the past year and with no end in sight, two principal fights are being waged in the Minnesota courts.  The first is over the question of exactly who will (or will not) be heirs to Prince’s Estate.  State intestate laws are fairly straightforward when someone without a Will leaves a surviving spouse and/or biological children.  But both of Prince’s marriages ended in divorce and his only child died in infancy.  So then under state intestate laws the courts must look to various other blood relatives.  In the case of Prince at this point there is one full sister and six half-siblings who stand to inherit something.  Yet since the probate process began there have been twenty (20) other individuals who claimed to also be rightful heirs.  Those claims were based on a tangled swirl of allegations of secret children, unknown siblings, and various distant cousins who also claimed a right to inherit.  All of those other claims have been denied.  But the more important point to realize is that sorting through all of that mess has added considerable time and expense to the legal process.   

The second big fight is over the question of the choice of personal representative(s) to take charge of the settlement process.  When you have a Will you declare who you want to handle your affairs after you die.  Yes, the Probate Court must go through a process to determine if your nominee is appropriate and the named individual has the right to decline to serve.  But the point is the Court will know what your personal preferences were.  Unfortunately, without a Will there is no way to know if you had any preferences.  Currently, all six of the currently named heirs agree that Comerica Bank & Trust N.A. can be named as a personal representative.  But they differ sharply on the question of who should be co-personal representative along with the trust company.  Some want CNN commentator and nonprofit organizer Van Jones since Jones advised Prince several times in the past.  Other heirs support veteran entertainment lawyer L. Londell McMillan.  Each respective block of heirs points to possible conflicts of interest as a reason why the other personal co-representative candidate should not be chosen. 

If Prince had only left a Will the fights over his rightful heirs and suitable personal co-representative might easily have been avoided.

If you have any questions about the issues presented above or care to discuss any other planning issues, please call us at 860-769-6938, visit our website at or email us at


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