“Prince died without a will, according to court documents filed by his sister on Tuesday, potentially causing big complications for that star’s sprawling financial estate and musical legacy,” the New York Timesreports.

Why is a will so crucial in settling an estate? There’s more to estate planning than just a will, isn’t there? However, as our attorneys at Geyer & Associates often explain, the will is the most basic testamentary document.  The main advantage of the will is that it makes a person’s intentions clear.

  • The place of residence named in the will determines which court will be involved in settling the estate.
  • The will names beneficiaries and what should be given to each of them.
  • The will names an executor to carry out all its terms.
  • The will designates how debts are to be paid, including bills, credit card balances, and funeral expenses.

In the absence of a will, none of these issues is addressed.

Tyka Nelson, Prince’s sister, testified to the fact that her brother died without a spouse, children, or surviving parents, and she petitioned the court in Minnesota to list herself and five half-siblings as heirs.

Uniquely knotty issues involved in settling this particular estate left by Prince Rogers Nelson include:

  1. Prince had no long-standing, consistent relationship with a legal advisor, preferring to deal personally with record companies, concert promoters, and digital music services, meaning that no ongoing and consistent record-keeping appears to have tracked the many transactions and agreements.
  2. Prince owned extensive real estate properties in the Minneapolis area, including a studio complex.
  3. Prince’s publishing catalog containing the copyrights for his songs were under his own control and he had a newly renegotiated contract with Warner as well. More than 650,000 albums and more than 2.8 million tracks have been sold in the U.S. since his death alone!
  4. Prince’s net worth has yet to be made clear; given that the size of the estate is probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Under estate tax rules, the IRS will take 40% or more of that amount in taxes.

More needs to be said about the estate planning complications caused by digital property and copyrights. As Benjamin Brunette discusses in the blog, Legal Login, owners who transfer copyrights have the right to terminate those transfers as much as 35 years later. If the original owner dies during that period time, the 1978 Copyright Act disallows the termination of a transfer of copyrights that were transferred by will.  Since no will has been found for Prince, and since there are so many copyrights involved and so few records uncovered, it will be particularly challenging to settle his estate.

Had there been a will, at least it would have made clear how Prince wanted his affairs to be handled.  Make sure you have proper estate planning in place to avoid issues after your death, and to ensure your estate is left to the people of your choosing.

– by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team