Local experts say Prince almost surely planned for his estate — but we may never know how
FARGO -- Speculation over who will receive the sizeable fortune of music icon Prince took an interesting turn last week when his only full sibling claimed he left no will.
FARGO - Speculation over who will receive the sizeable fortune of music icon Prince took an interesting turn last week when his only full sibling claimed he left no will.
Is it possible that Prince, who championed fiercely for artists’ rights and exerted great control over his music, left no direction whatsoever for distribution of his assets?
Local attorneys say they’d be surprised if that proved true, and say there are other ways Prince could have outlined who gets what - ways which could never come to light.
“Yeah, it’s very surprising that someone with a substantial income not only would not have a will but a very complex estate plan,” said Fargo attorney Mike Andrews, who does estate litigation in Minnesota.
The intrigue surrounding Prince’s death and the riches left behind - including vaults filled with unreleased recordings - has fans in a state of wonderment.
“Maybe it’s like a treasure hunt, and the clues are in his lyrics (a guy can dream),” tweeted Dave Berger, a Prince fan from Grand Forks, N.D.
Prince Rogers Nelson died April 21 at his Paisley Park complex in Chanhassen. Authorities are investigating whether opioid medication found at the scene was a factor in his death and whether the drugs were prescribed to him. A medical examiner has not yet issued a cause of death.
In the meantime, a judge appointed a bank as a special administrator to safeguard Prince’s fortune, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Andrews and colleague Jim Sanden, who specializes in estate planning and probate, say it’s unusual that someone with that large a fortune wouldn’t take steps to reduce the amount of estate tax owed.
An individual can leave $5.45 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax.
“Everything over that amount could be subject to federal estate tax of 40 percent,” Andrews said.
State estate taxes could also be owed. Individual estates larger than $1.6 million in Minnesota could owe 10 to 15 percent in estate taxes, Sanden said.
Andrews said whether Prince had a will or not, a probate proceeding to settle his estate will be opened and heirs will be determined by state statute.
Prince was married and divorced twice, and his only child died of a genetic disorder a week after birth. His sister, Tyka Nelson, has listed herself and five half siblings as potential heirs. The first probate hearing in the case is set for May 2.
But just because there’s no initial sign of a will doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Andrews said a person has up to three years after the date of death to submit a will to probate.
“Relatives are saying they aren’t aware,” but they’re probably looking, he said.
What if a valid will turns up in that period of time?
“That would eventually trump everything,” Sanden said.
There’s also a possibility Prince had one or more trusts - an arrangement to hold assets for the benefit of another. Unlike a will, which becomes public after a death certificate is issued and it’s filed for probate, trusts remain private.
“That’s one of the advantages of a trust,” Sanden said, “especially celebrities, that’s why they choose them.”
For example, Prince could have set up trusts to benefit certain charitable causes after his death. Only after he died did it come to light that he secretly donated large amounts of money to charitable organizations, with the stipulation that no one talk about them.
If he had established certain trusts, Fargo estate planner Whitney Irish said we’ll likely never know unless the beneficiaries come forward.
“And I don’t know why they would,” Irish said.
No matter what happens, it won’t be a quick process.
“This is by no means a race to the courthouse, it will go on for a long time,” Andrews said.