Last month the pop music icon Prince died a sudden and untimely death at the age of 57. During the course of his career, Prince amassed a massive estate that includes the rights to his music catalog and unreleased music reportedly worth more well over $300 million. Prince did not make a will prior to his death. A comprehensive estate plan could have significantly reduced his estate’s tax liability and controlled the release of his unpublished music after his death. In addition, and arguably more importantly, Prince’s estate is facing costly and time-consuming litigation that likely would have been avoided if he had made a will.
Prince’s estate will be shared equally amongst his sister and five half siblings pursuant to Minnesota law because Prince died without a spouse or children. Minnesota law does not differentiate between siblings and half-siblings. Several claims have been filed by people claiming to be Prince’s heirs, including a claim on behalf of a prison inmate named Carlin Q. Williams who claims to Prince’s son. The court may require claimants to undergo genetic testing in order to assess the validity of their claims. It will likely take years to sort out who the rightful heirs are of Prince’s estate and how the specific assets of the estate should be distributed to them.
If Prince had made a will, much of the legal issues facing his estate would have been avoided. In addition, he would have been able direct that specific assets be distributed to specific individuals and charities instead of having his estate divided according to Minnesota’s law of intestacy. Prince’s estate highlights the importance of estate planning for individuals who are unmarried and without children. Single individuals without children may have closer relationships with people they are not related to such as life partners and good friends than their with their heirs at law, which in Prince’s case may include grand nieces and nephews whom he never met.