For Want of a Will – Prince’s Chaotic Legacy

For Want of a Will – Prince’s Chaotic Legacy

I was standing on the shore of Lake Minnetonka, when the gender-neutral naiad of the artist formerly known as Prince, who watches over those glimmering waters, appeared to me.

He or she wanted to share the pop star’s last thoughts. I was keen to learn, what with being so nosey. The crystalline voice, still funky, rang out:

“Party over. Oops – out of time.”

The spirit needn’t have bothered, for everyone on God’s green Earth – once Prince’s realm – without telling or hearing, suspected the words of his final lament.

Ah, Prince of the Twin Cities, miniscule as a chess piece, a phallic black bishop, just as versatile and lethal – at least with his jump shot, they say. The locals still love him with their warm Midwest hearts, like to point out his ranch house, home of historic recordings and predawn, rock-n-roll pancake parties. He lived large, the little fellow.

They say he played every instrument on his records. Hit up YouTube with a search for ‘prince party man bass track’ and let his groovy breeze blow you away. I pulled that line straight from the comments.

A lot of us still miss his delectable eccentricities, petit Prince Rogers Nelson, who died age 57 on April 21, 2016. Prince’s sister quickly filed in court to open a probate case, declaring her brother had died with no will. Prince was unmarried when he went and left behind no real children, though claimants abound.

Minnesota law rules that in no-will conditions, Prince’s sister and his five half-siblings have claims on his estate. Should have been easy to whack up the holdings for this tiny posse, yes? Perhaps, absent the 700-folk claiming to be Prince’s relations in tangentially varying forms. Slide forward to 2021, and only the six siblings remain standing. Yet the matter is still fouled up in court.
Prince had a nicely diversified portfolio of securities, real estate, artworks, and fancy cars worth – well, the IRS is disputing the amount, about the ugliest words I can share. The estate’s administrator sees $82 million waiting to be divvied up; the taxman says double it.

The IRS wants another $32.4 million in federal taxes and a $6.4 million penalty for making them work so hard. They spoil a party like nobody can.

Please don’t die without a will. Prince’s example teaches why. The size of the estate in question doesn’t matter; whatever the value, if you have heirs, failure to leave post-partem instructions means chaos – it’s merely a matter of scale.

Minnesota’s favorite son is hardly the first pop star to die short of key paperwork. Jimmy Hendrix and Sonny Bono, Michael Jackson, and Pablo Picasso; nary a will between them. Soul angel Aretha Franklin’s estate was worth a sparkling $80mn, yet she passed without leaving even the vaguest instructions on managing her financial legacy. You’d think at least one of their hangers-on would have heard of estate planning and nagged them.

If you’re building a legacy, completing a will is job one. It’s easy to get started: first, value your estate by listing all your assets and debts. Assets include the family home and other real estate, savings and securities, investment and retirement accounts, life and property insurance policies, motor vehicles, snazzy jewelry, artworks, and all else.

Personal belongings of interest to those most beloved must be carefully accounted and assigned, whether they’re worth much or not. When you die, your dearest and nearest will be taking it hard, no time for insensitive rubbing of raw feelings. If your nephew is expecting your Cartier watch (mine’s ‘dibbed’ my old Timex), make sure it’s codified.

Debts are commonly left off the list, but they bite survivors hard if left unaddressed. Any mortgages, credit card balances, personal or bank loans, anything that needs paying, make sure everyone knows, because these sums are coming off the top.

The next part is tough, I won’t kid you: decide who gets what. The cash and securities, the family business; the lake cottage, the boat, the’64 Mustang; dad’s rocker, and the only photo of mother’s great-grandma – like I said, it’s isn’t just money. Personal items touch the heart, soothing or bruising for a lifetime. The struggle for my Papou’s fez from old Istanbul was Homeric, so distribute with care.

What about charity? And what if an heir dies before you? Instructions, instructions: a conceptually easy task gets all tangled up. For the wealthy, a professional appraiser may be helpful. Likely, your estate planning team can handle the task without undue fuss, at least in valuing your financial assets. You’ll still need to figure out who gets mom’s baking pans.

It’s fine to start with an online will template to get organized. Despite all the buzzy advice that you don’t need a lawyer, you certainly do. Drafting a basic will costs no more than two hundred bucks. Complex cases ring up $1,000 or so, a drop in the bucket to the expenses awaiting an estate with no post-passing guidelines.

Returning to our case: Bremer Trust, the special administrator appointed for Prince’s estate, filed papers in court to recoup its fees: $2.3 million for a three-month period. Three years later, the bill was up to $10 million. As of June 2021, the matter had been in court for exactly five years, where it still languishes.

Ghosts don’t care much about anything, I figure. That doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands – it means the time for hard thinking is now. What legacy do you want for your loved ones: a cleansing time of mourning or a rancorous time in court? I’ve asked this question on so many occasions, the right answer should spring easily to mind.

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