Paisley Park, Probate, and Purple Rain: Why Prince’s Failure to Have a Will is a Good Lesson in Preparation for Us All

My family members are all audiophiles.  Our upbringing revolved around music. My parents always had the radio on and there probably wasn’t a bigger fan of the 70’s rock group Boston than my dad.  My brother and I had a garage band with buddies growing up and concert-going has been a hobby of my wife and I since we met.  Music was even part of our Christmas celebration this year. My mom got my family tickets to visit Paisley Park this spring.  For those unfamiliar, located in Chanhassen, Minnesota, Paisely Park is the home and recording studio of the late Prince Rogers Nelson, aka “Prince.”  The estate is now a museum, recording studio, and live music venue celebrating the life and work of “The Purple One.”

Even though our trip was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paisley Park was recently on my mind…and in the news.  As you may know, Prince died three years ago last month of an accidental overdose.  His death shook the music community.  He left behind a lifetime of music, much of it unreleased, and a vast estate.  His estate is valued in between $200 and $300 million.  Despite Prince’s massive success and massive wealth, he failed to leave behind a will to instruct his successors and heirs on what to do with his vast estate.

Due in part to Prince’s unorthodox lifestyle and penchant for secrecy, the musician never created an estate plan that would effectively dispose of his estate on his death.  Such a massive failure to plan for his own demise has left his family and potential heirs with a mass of confusion.  His estate is still not settled more than three years after his death.

The consequences of not having a will for Prince’s estate have been enormous.  None of his potential heirs, like his mother or six siblings, have been disbursed their potential portion of the estate.  Paisley Park’s future is still uncertain.  Lawyers have been fighting for three years about the distribution of Prince’s assets.  Current estimates on the legal bills are hovering around $10 million.  Administrators have spent $45 million in total trying to settle the estate so far.  Prince’s failure to have an estate plan have also left his estate a monster tax bill: 40% is due to the federal government and another 16% due to the State of Minnesota.

I get why Prince didn’t have a will. It’s hard to think about your own death. Prince’s situation teaches us that not even the rich and famous are immune from the pitfalls of failing to plan for the inevitability of one’s own demise.  Even though we may not have the immense wealth that Prince amassed during his life, our failure to create an estate plan can similarly leave behind problems for our survivors: confusion, anger, jealousy, and a potentially hefty tax bill.

A will and estate plan could have helped Prince deal with many of these issues.  So, too, can a will and estate plan help us all have control over what happens to what we leave behind.  It can help family ease the burden of our death.  It can avoid unnecessary taxes and help place our heirs on a more solid financial footing.  And, importantly, it can help do all of these things in a time frame much quicker than three years following our death.

This pandemic, while a scary and uncertain time, provides a good opportunity to take a look at our own mortality and make sure that we have adequate plans in place for the future of our loved ones.  If we don’t spend a little time to put in place satisfactory planning measures, then someone else (most of the time, the government) gets to make many of those choices for us.  If you or someone you know needs to take a look at estate planning, whether it be a will, powers of attorney, a trust, or other options for end of life decisions, call the attorneys at GRL Law to discuss how an estate plan can help you plan for the future and provide peace of mind.