Tax Law Blog: Prince's Estate Plan (or lack thereof)

Dentons Davis Brown
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News sources are reporting that court documents filed last week indicate Prince died intestate, meaning he did not have a will.  His sister filed the paperwork, stating to her knowledge he did not have a will and requesting the court appoint someone to act as a special administrator to make ongoing business decisions. This is a common concern for anyone with an ongoing business, particularly important for a celebrity. A special administrator has been appointed, but the issues are likely just beginning. 

A lot of questions remain. Many people are surprised to learn Prince may not have had a will. But maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised; he is not the first celebrity to die without a proper estate plan. As reported by Forbes, other celebrities have also made the headlines for dying intestate, including Amy Winehouse, Tupac Shakur, Bob Marley, and Kurt Cobain.  Michael Jackson was originally believed to have died without a will, though a will was eventually found.

It is possible that he did have a will or trust that his sister doesn’t know about. That said, it seems someone would have come forward by now but at this point, no will or trust has been found. If he died intestate, the laws of the state of Minnesota (where he was a resident at the time of his death) will determine how his property is distributed. 

At the time of his death, he was unmarried, had no surviving children, and his parents were deceased. As a result, according to Minnesota laws, his siblings stand to inherit his estate. In Minnesota, it appears this would result in equal one-sixth shares for his one full sister and his five half-siblings.

The Iowa intestacy laws are a bit different, with one-half of the estate going to the heirs of his mother and the other one-half of the estate going to the heirs of his father. As a result, in Iowa, the full sister would receive a larger share than the half-siblings.

As part of the probate process, the administrator of the estate will prepare an inventory listing all of the assets Prince had when he died, and the value of the assets. Typically these documents are public records. Many individuals would prefer this type of information not become public record. It is possible the court could order the documents to be sealed in Prince’s estate. Sealing the public documents is much less likely for the general public.

As discussed in the ABA Journal, valuing the assets, including the publicity rights of his name, likeness, and image, may be a very difficult task. CNN Money estimates his net worth to be $300 million. With the current maximum federal estate tax rate at 40%, valuing the assets will be very important not only to the beneficiaries, but also to the IRS.

Various news sources are reporting that Prince was very charitable during his life, though he often requested donations be kept anonymous.  If that’s true you wonder if he had done some estate planning, whether charitable contributions would have been part of his plan so he could continue to support those charitable causes after his death.

As more information comes to light, I expect the questions and what-ifs to continue. A proper estate plan could have made his wishes clear and eliminated a lot of the questions for surviving friends and family.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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