Prince’s death in 2016 left an estate worth $156 million and sparked six years of litigation. This article provides an overview of the conflicts and litigation surrounding the settlement of the Prince’s estate, including the most recent court case.
Preliminary Probate Proceedings
The absence of a will led to a complex legal procedure known as the distribution of the deceased’s estate, in which the courts determine the heirs of the deceased. As a result, his six sisters were declared legal heirs. However, they struggled to reach consensus on a distribution plan and often went to court.
The main issues that led to litigation over the Prince’s estate were:
- Absence of a will: Prince’s failure to leave a will set off a complex probate process in which courts decide how the deceased’s estate should be distributed. This resulted in his six siblings being named as legal heirs.
- Disagreements among heirs: Heirs could not agree on a distribution plan, which often led to court appearances. These disagreements between the heirs prolonged the litigation.
- Sale of shares to Primary Wave: Three of the heirs sold their shares to a company called Primary Wave in August 2021. Primary Wave acquired the rights to Prince’s extensive song catalog, making the estate settlement even more difficult.
- Valuation of property: Differences of opinion have arisen regarding the valuation of property. Comerica Bank & Trust originally valued the estate at $82.3 million, and the IRS valued it at $163.2 million in 2020. In the end, attorneys representing six of Prince’s heirs settled on a final valuation of $156 million.
- New lawsuit in 2024: In January 2024, a new lawsuit between the heirs took place. McMillan, Spicer and Torres, along with Sharon and Norrin Breanna and Allen Nelson (John’s other children), filed a lawsuit alleging breach of trust by Prince. The lawsuit further complicated an already contentious property deal.
The role of the primary wave
Primary Wave, a music publishing company, bought out the shares of the three heirs, giving them roughly half of the estate, including Prince’s extensive song catalog.
In August 2022, a Minnesota judge approved a settlement that finally settled a long-running lawsuit over Prince’s estate. The estate, valued at $156 million, was divided between the three heirs, their families, advisers and Primary Wave, along with the Internal Revenue Service and the estate’s administrator. The settlement included $6 million in cash and valuable music rights and other intangible assets.
The latest court case
In January 2024, a lawsuit against Prince’s estate was filed by L. Londell McMillan and Charles Spicer, managers of Prince Legacy LLC, the holding company that controls half of Prince’s estate. The lawsuit alleges that four of Prince’s family members — half-sisters Sharon Nelson and Norrin Nelson, niece Breanna Nelson and nephew Allen Nelson — improperly tried to oust McMillan and Spicers from the company.
Those family members allegedly sought to change the company’s bylaws and remove McMillan and Spicer, moves that would violate the group’s operating agreement and potentially harm efforts to protect and preserve Prince’s legacy. The lawsuit further alleges that Sharon and Breanna Nelson attempted to sell their shares, which would upset the existing 50-50 balance of the Prince estate.
McMillan and Spicer are seeking an immediate injunction to block any changes, arguing that such changes would cause chaos within the company and jeopardize its relationships with third parties. They also allege that the individual defendants lack business and management experience, as well as experience in the music and entertainment industries.
Lessons Learned from Property Battle for Prince’s Family Businesses
One key lesson is the importance of proper estate planning. The prince’s lack of a will or clear instructions on how to distribute his assets led to protracted legal battles. Family businesses should ensure they have a well-documented estate plan to avoid similar disputes. It is also very important for family businesses to have open and transparent communication about their intentions and plans for the business. Prince’s case highlighted how misunderstandings and lack of clarity can lead to legal conflicts. Regular family meetings and discussions about succession and ownership can help prevent future disputes.
The prince apparently did not seek or use professional legal and financial advice to deal with complex issues such as estate planning and asset distribution. Prince’s situation demonstrated the importance of having professionals who can guide a family through legal challenges. Family businesses often take a strong legacy to protect. Litigation over the prince’s estate has shown that disputes can damage a family’s reputation and legacy. Businesses should prioritize protecting their legacy through careful planning and conflict resolution.
Estate plans and legal documents should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changing circumstances. Prince’s case highlighted the importance of updating documents, especially when there are changes in family dynamics or business operations. Doing so can avoid public legal battles, not only financially, but also damaging to the reputation of the family and business. Family businesses should aim to resolve disputes privately through alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration whenever possible.
The prince’s death was sudden and unexpected. Family businesses should have contingency plans for unexpected events such as the death or incapacity of key family members. This includes identifying successors and ensuring a smooth transition of leadership. The Prince’s estate also emphasized the importance of protecting intellectual property rights as part of that legacy. Businesses should take steps to protect their intellectual property and ensure that it is properly managed and licensed.
Finally, family businesses can learn from high-profile cases such as the Prince’s estate trial by learning from mistakes made and lessons learned. This can help them avoid similar pitfalls in the future.
Conflicts and litigation over the settlement of Prince’s estate were a direct result of the lack of a will and estate plan. The six-year litigation involved numerous court cases and heated disputes between the heirs. While a final settlement in 2022 will end the legal battle, the lessons learned from this situation are a reminder of the critical importance of proper estate planning.
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