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No Will for Prince (Shocking), But He Needed Much More

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Posted on May 31, 2016 | Share this post: Like Us on Facebook Join Us on Google Follow Us on Twitter

“I can’t believe Prince didn’t have a Will!”

We hear that all the time. Consider for a moment that the legendary rocker might not have been all that interested in what happened to this stuff after he died. After all, he sang in Let’s Go Crazy:

We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause
We’re all gonna die

And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all for (What’s it all for)
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door

Maybe Prince believed in living now and purposefully didn’t plan for his demise. We’ll never know, of course. We do know, though, that just a Will wouldn’t have solved all of Prince’s estate problems.
It would not have avoided probate. Wills do not sidestep the court process of determining whether a Will is valid and subsequent required procedures. So the process of administering Prince’s estate would still have been very public and involve disclosures the very private man may have found repulsive. However, most people with even a fraction of his wealth would choose a Revocable Trust as a means to protect privacy and avoid probate.

A Will, or even a Revocable Trust, would not have necessarily avoided estate tax. Estate tax is levied on all a person’s property owned at death – a Will doesn’t do anything at all to reduce that liability. Estimates place the value of Prince’s estate anywhere from $200 million to $800 million. With a federal estate tax rate of 40% and a state (Minnesota) tax rate of 16%, about half could go to the government. He might not mind that with regard to Minnesota; it is well-known that he was devoted to his home city of Minneapolis. But he could have figured out other places he wanted it to go.
To avoid the taxes, he could have done any number of things, including:

  1. Get married and give it to his spouse.
  2. Give it to charities (he contributed to a wide variety of causes.
  3. Create his own private foundation to carry out his own charitable goals.
  4. Gift it to one or more trusts when the assets were worth less.

It also should be noted that where there are tens of millions of dollars at stake, even with a valid Will or Revocable Trust, there can be litigation. So those who say his lack of planning created a mess, are only partly right. It probably would have been messy regardless, though maybe less so. People can challenge the validity of the documents, their meaning, claim they were inadvertently forgotten, and other theories from which litigious probate lawyers could profit. There are ways to protect an estate plan, but there is no way to completely prevent angry family members (or wishful heirs) from filing lawsuits.

A Will could have made Prince’s wishes clear and legally enforceable: direct where he wanted his stuff to go and who should control it. At his death, Prince had a sister, five half-siblings, a deceased half sibling possibly with descendants, and maybe an adult child (DNA test results pending). A child, even one unknown or unacknowledged, is usually a person’s sole heir if the person had no will and was not married.

At the very least, Prince could have selected who he wanted to inherit his millions, protected those loved ones with trusts managed by professionals, and installed professionals to manage his music and image precisely how he wished. As it is, it all might go to a son he never knew who is currently in prison! Crazy.