Lessons from the Plans of the Rich and Famous: Music Artist Prince

Prince passed away and had no will. What happened next should be a lesson for us all.

We can all help our clients learn from the estate plans of celebrities, whose estate plans often make the news and give us fodder for conversation with clients. In your meetings, take care not to criticize the choices of the deceased, but do use them as cautionary lessons to highlight areas of estate planning of which families need to be aware.

Relinquishing control to the state dramatically increases costs and the level of conflict.

One such celebrity example from which clients can learn is the deceased music artist Prince, who passed away without a will. Unfortunately, many people wait too long to put an estate plan in place thinking it is something only older individuals need.

A Harris Poll found that two-thirds of Americans are without a will (Harris Poll for Rocket Lawyer). It is astonishing that so many people put off making specific plans for their assets, families, and philanthropy, letting state laws determine the outcome. Relinquishing control to the state dramatically increases costs and the level of conflict.

In the Prince estate, his assets passed to one sister and five half siblings, all older than himself, and one of whom he had not seen in 15 years. He told Rolling Stone “I don’t think about ‘gone’” in an interview two years before his death, so perhaps this was a conscious choice of his, but for a person so controlling of his image, business dealings, rights to music, and privacy, it is uncharacteristic.

When his estate sanctioned “Prince: Live on the Big Screen, ” a four-day celebration at the 19,000-seat Target Center with performances by several former band mates accompanying “never-before-released audio and video of Prince,” the six heirs filed motions to stop an “entertainment transaction” that they claim would be “an embarrassment to Prince’s legacy.”

Furthermore, three heirs filed suit regarding the estate administrator’s high legal fees claiming, “at the end…there will be little, if anything, to pass on to the heirs.” Almost $6 million had been paid to the estate administrator and lawyers, and almost $3 million more had been requested. Even the judge admonished all those involved, writing the estate “is not an unlimited resource!”

So, as your clients’ trusted advisor, ensure that they understand the importance of an estate plan for controlling who inherits their assets and how they are treated. Insist that they have an estate plan in place prepared by a legal professional.

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