When I think about musicians who have lots of experience with the legal system on the civil side of things, one of the first people I think of is Prince. During the 1990s he legally changed his name to an unpronounceable “love symbol’ as a form of protest during a legal battle over his contract with Warner Brothers, and he was constantly filing legal actions against people who uploaded his songs and image to the internet.
It is clear that he appreciated and valued having control over his life’s work and assets, so I was very surprised when it was reported that he died without an estate plan. If he had put a plan in place, he would have been able to dictate, to some degree, how his music would be released and sold in the future. Without an estate plan in place, those decisions will be made by whoever inherits his assets, which reportedly include a lot of unreleased music as well as his catalogue of hits.
It is not clear who will end up inheriting Prince’s estate because in addition to dying without an estate plan, he is not married and he has no living children or parents. If no children materialize (and it is not expected any will), Prince’s estate will pass to his siblings under Minnesota law. One newspaper is reporting that over 700 people have already contacted the company tasked with finding all of the eligible heirs claiming some sort of relationship. To cut down false claims, the judge overseeing administration of the estate has ordered a DNA test of Prince’s blood in order to preserve that evidence for the future. In short, things are a mess, and the legal drama is likely to drag on for years.
Unlike Prince, most people aren’t going to leave behind a billion dollar estate when they die, but the problems that come from not having an estate plan in place are all too common.
There are a lot of people out there that die without an estate plan in place. So many, in fact, that the Indiana Legislature has put laws in place to dictate what happens when someone dies without a will. These laws work well, but they are not nearly as efficient as having a plan in place.
Not having a plan in place also means that all your personal details will be public. Unless the judge seals the case for some reason, we are going to know exactly what sort of assets Prince had, and we are going to see all the family drama play out in public.
When most people think about making an estate plan, their top priority is their family. However, focusing on your business can be just as important. Making sure your business interests are well taken care of after you are gone is often one of the best ways to provide for family in the long run.