Dying without a will causes legal disputes for Prince

by Mandy Hicks

By Nathan Vinson, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

Prince performing in concert in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Bob Young.

It’s been more than a year since music legend Prince died unexpectedly at his home in Minnesota. He was actively touring and working at the time of his death on April 21, 2016, at the young age of 57.

You’re forgiven if you assumed his estate was long settled, since he died more than a year ago. But it’s not done yet – and may not be for quite a while – due to the fact that he died without a will.

It’s astounding to think that someone who is as famous, prosperous and with as many assets as Prince would die without this basic legal document. But as it turns out, he’s no different than anyone else – he probably didn’t want to think about death.

Whether you die a famous millionaire or with few assets, if you don’t have a Will you can leave a large mess. Heirs you would have never wanted to have your property could get it. Your estate will spend more probating your assets as well, and those who you wished to receive items from your estate may never see them.

Prince was a very charitable man, yet none of his millions he had nor future royalties will benefit those he likely would have preferred to benefit. Plus, the estate will shell out much more than anyone would want to pay in estate taxes.

Your children and family will be far happier if you take care of this before you die – and there’s no doubt it will bring you piece of mind, too.

Who gets Prince’s fortune?

The judge handling the case has indicated he intends to divide the estate between Prince’s surviving six siblings and half-siblings. But it has taken more than a year to even get to that conclusion, thanks to the many people who tried to lay claim to his fortune. This included an inmate in Colorado who said he was Prince’s son, and a woman who said she was his niece and another who said she was his great-niece. DNA tests ruled out the son and other would-be relatives. Rule of law excluded the would-be niece and great-niece – even if they were legitimately related.

International musicians typically have lawyers for everything; lawyers for contracts with venues, lawyers for contracts with record labels, lawyers for contracts with managers and other lawyers who help secure and defend trademarks and copyrights. While all of that protects their interests while they are alive, it’s important to think about what happens to your work after you die. In Prince’s case, because he was unmarried at the time of his death and did not have children, and there was no will, the division of his estate became more complicated.

Also, Prince died with a vault filled with unreleased materials. There are future marketing rights, streaming rights, probably film rights to his life story and everything else you can imagine. It’s not just what’s in the past that a good estate plan protects – it’s what the future may hold, too.

Let us help

Estate planning is a difficult topic for many to face. But it’s so very critical, and we can tell you what a gift it is for your family to know what you wanted to happen after your death. It saves many a fight between heirs and also passes along messages about your values. You can leave funds to charities you loved, and gifts for people who had a meaningful role in your life.

We can help. Call our firm, English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP, and let us help you start this important conversation. Contact me, attorney Nathan Vinson, at or (270) 781-6500.