Prince died without a will, according to court documents filed by his sister on Tuesday, potentially causing big complications for that star’s sprawling financial estate and musical legacy.
In probate documents filed with the Carver County District Court in Minnesota, Tyka Nelson, 55, Prince’s sister, said that her brother died without a spouse, children or surviving parents, and that “I do not know of the existence of a will.”
Nelson’s petition also listed five half-siblings as heirs, and asked the court to appoint a special administrator for the estate “because no personal representative has been appointed in Minnesota or elsewhere.” Minnesota law treats surviving half-siblings the same as full siblings, raising the possibility of a drawn-out family battle.
In the music business, Prince — who died on Thursday at 57 — was known as a mercurial star who cycled through lawyers and representatives frequently, and who often preferred to deal personally with record companies, concert promoters and even digital music services. But that history of self-sufficiency could have severe consequences if Prince did not leave an orderly estate — a strong possibility if no will turns up, several music-industry lawyers and executives said.
“It could be a huge tragedy,” said Howard E. King, a veteran entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles who represented Prince in the past. “You could have a difference in valuation of hundreds of millions of dollars depending on whether the right people get in there to manage the legacy of Prince.”
A lawyer for Tyka Nelson did not respond to requests for comment.
The probate court has not identified an executor, and estimates of Prince’s net worth and of the value of his estate have varied widely. Forbes magazine last estimated his earnings in 2005, when it said that he made $49.7 million before taxes that year.
But Prince’s worth could be much greater now, particularly since two years ago he took control of his valuable publishing catalog — the copyrights for songwriting — and negotiated a favorable new deal with Warner Bros., his former record company. Since his death, Prince has sold at least 650,000 albums and 2.8 million tracks in the United States, according to Nielsen.
Beyond his music, Prince, who was born Prince Rogers Nelson, owned extensive property in the Minneapolis area. Its value is unclear, but Paisley Park, his studio complex in the suburb of Chanhassen, Minnesota, has been assessed at more than $7 million, according to Carver County public records.
Since Prince’s death, music industry executives — including even those he dealt with closely — have been anxiously awaiting word about who controlled the estate, which includes Prince’s “vault” of unreleased recordings. This voluminous collection has long been legendary among fans and collectors, and Prince stoked that interest. “I didn’t always give the record companies the best song,” he once told Rolling Stone.
But who now has the power to make the decisions about the music in that vault is unclear. Prince was known to be exacting in his dealings with record companies, and fought hard to retain as much control as possible.
Tyka Nelson’s petition, which was first reported by TMZ, asked the court to name an affiliate of the Bremer Bank in St. Cloud, Minnesota, as the special administrator, saying that the bank had provided financial services to Prince and had knowledge of his business affairs.
A bank spokeswoman said it was not bank policy to reveal information about customers, but added that “our sympathies are with family and fans in mourning the loss of a talented musician and Minnesotan.”
In addition to Tyka Nelson, the document lists as heirs three half brothers, John Nelson, Alfred Jackson and Omar Baker; and two half sisters, Norrine and Sharon Nelson.
An autopsy was performed on Prince, but its results are not expected for several weeks. A police investigation is continuing.
As fans have swarmed Paisley Park and other musical sites around Minneapolis, the music industry has also been paying tribute to Prince, with executives hoping that the estate is sorted out quickly and managed well. A frequent comparison has been to the estate of Michael Jackson, who was badly in debt when he died in 2009 but had a will; that estate has since earned hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Prince was a major star and a cultural influencer, but he was a human being,” said Kenneth J. Abdo, an entertainment lawyer in Minneapolis. “It comes down to taking care of business. If you don’t take care of it, you’re leaving a mess to the family or the courts.”