April 21, 2017 marked one year since the death of the beloved recording artist, Prince. We have previously blogged about the legal issues surrounding Prince’s Estate that have emerged since his death. Although more than a year has now passed, the Estate continues to be engaged in litigation.
According to media reports, producer George Ian Boxill tried to release an EP containing previously unreleased songs by Prince to coincide with the first anniversary of his death. Boxill asserted that he had the right to release the music. In a lawsuit commenced by Paisley Park Enterprises, Prince’s Estate disagreed and alleged that Boxill was in breach of the recording agreement that he had signed with Prince.
The Estate was initially successful in blocking Boxill’s attempts to release the EP of new music. However, according to a new report in TMZ, Boxill has now filed additional legal documents that state that the unreleased music was not the subject of a nondisclosure agreement.
Separately, as we have previously blogged, Prince died without a Will and any known children, resulting in claims from a number of possible heirs.
According to a recent news report, the Minnesota judge presiding over the proceedings had indicated that he would not make a declaration regarding the heirs of Prince’s Estate until appeals by other potential heirs whose claims had been rejected were allowed to run their course. Lawyers for Prince’s sister and half-siblings have now argued that this delay will unnecessarily increase costs and hinder the proper administration of the Estate.
We have previously blogged about the importance of carefully addressing issues regarding intellectual property and any possible rights the estate may have after the testator’s death in a testator’s estate plan. Deceased writers, musicians and other artists may be parties to agreements that bind their estates and affect the rights and control over their intellectual property.
It is generally advisable for drafting solicitors to ensure that such legal documents are reviewed as part of a creative professional’s estate planning. It may also be prudent to obtain the advice of a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property law, to ensure that the estate plan adequately addresses any possible rights the estate may have after the testator’s death. Disputes over the beneficial ownership and control of a testator’s intellectual property can result in protracted and expensive litigation.
The legal issues surrounding Prince’s Estate reiterate the importance of careful estate planning while the testator is still alive. Lack of certainty regarding the beneficiaries of the estate, the deceased’s intentions and the property/rights of the estate can significantly increase the risk that the estate will become embroiled in protracted litigation.
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The unexpected and shocking death of Prince last week has sent the media abuzz as they speculate about the potential cause of death. However, as the dust begins to settle, speculation has turned to the other big question: Who will inherit his vast estate valued anywhere from an estimated $150-300 million?
On Tuesday, Prince’s sister filed paperwork in Minnesota (where Prince resided and died) asking the court to appoint a special administrator to oversee his estate. This step was necessary because it appears that despite his fortune, Prince did not have a known will and therefore, may have died intestate.
Of course, it is still possible for a will to emerge after further investigations are undertaken. Some are speculating that a trust or series of trusts may have been established to avoid the public scrutiny that would have been involved in probating a will. Trusts are commonly used vehicles for celebrities who wish to maintain some semblance of privacy after death.
However, if there was no estate plan in place, Prince’s estate will be devolved in accordance with the Minnesota laws of intestacy. Prince was not married, had no children, and was predeceased by his parents. He was survived by two ex-wives, his full biological sister and five half-siblings. Under Minnesota law, ex-wives do not qualify under intestacy rules and half siblings are treated the same as full siblings. Accordingly, Prince’s six surviving siblings stand to potentially inherit a significant fortune.
As an additional concern, there are often claims made against an estate of this magnitude, some valid and some not. Unfortunately, the absence of any testamentary document to support Prince’s actual intentions may only exacerbate and encourage this effect. These types of claims can vary significantly from dependant’s support to creditors’ claims.
The laws of intestacy seldom reflect the true intentions of a testator and can lead to many potentially avoidable complications. For instance, family dynamics are becoming increasingly complex with the prevalence of common-law spouses and blended families, just to name a few examples. As a result, while intestacy rules aim to distribute an estate among those the law presumes to be closest to you and to whom you may owe support, the practical effect is that this desired result is rarely achieved.
Thank you for reading.
Listen to the deemed undertaking rule.
This week on Hull on Estates, Paul and Allan discuss the deemed undertaking rule and its application to estate matters.