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  • Gabriel B. Lenhart

Lessons to Learn in the Wake of Prince's Death

The untimely death of superstar Prince has brought a surprising issue to American living rooms: estate planning. If current reports are correct, Prince died without an estate plan. His wishes regarding whom he wanted to control and inherit his substantial estate will be ignored and the court system will decide these questions for him. Had he resided in California, taxes and probate attorney fees alone would potentially cost his family millions, and his family could expect to spend up to two years in court before anyone inherits anything.

Prince died on April 21 at the age of 57, he had one sister, Tyka Nelson and six half-siblings. Prince’s parents and two of his half-siblings predeceased him, he was divorced twice and had no living children. Ms. Nelson recently filed documents with the Carver County probate court, asserting that she believed her brother had died without a will or a trust. She also asked that the court appoint a special administrator to handle Prince’s affairs until a personal administrator is appointed. A judge appointed a banking affiliate to serve in this role temporarily.

When a person passes away without a will or a trust, they are said to have died “intestate.” When this happens, state law directs the distribution of the person’s property, known as the “estate” through a process called probate. Ultimately, it’s up to the Court to decide who controls the estate. If Prince in fact died without a will, these statutes will result in his sister dividing his estate amongst herself and his half-siblings, which may or may not be what Prince would have wanted had he made an estate plan.

Additionally, his estate is likely to be overseen by a paid executor rather than a family member or friend he would have chosen. Further, this process could deprive his family of millions in probate attorney’s fees and tax liability that could have been avoided with the proper planning.

So, what does this mean for you?

Just like Prince, if you do not plan for your death, your family will get stuck in court and could end up in a legal battle that may well be divisive amongst family members. It’s an unnecessary and significant expense to your family, both financially and emotionally, and it is totally avoidable. It's not just millionaires who may fall victim to probate, everyday middle class families will have to deal with probate when a loved one dies.

Let Prince’s death be an inspiration to you to leave your loved ones with a legacy of love, not a legal mess to clean up.

Please note that this article is a general summary of law and omits many important details, footnotes, and caveats. It is no substitute for legal advice from a lawyer based on your particular circumstances.

For more information or to speak with a lawyer, please call us at (530) 268-5485, visit our website,, or send us an email at

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