On April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead at his Paisley Park complex in Minnesota from an accidental overdose. With no recognized Will or established Trust, Prince left behind an estate valued between $100 – $300 million. This estimate does not include:
- current and future income, including royalties from music sales after Prince’s death
- tickets sales from tours of the Paisley Park Museum that began less than six months after his death; and proceeds from a tribute concert scheduled for October 13, 2016
With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, who are the legal heirs, what are their claims, and who will end up with most of the money?
Carver County District Judge Kevin Eide is presiding over the matter. In a ruling issued in July 2016, Judge Eide certified six people as presumptive heirs: Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, and Prince’s half-siblings, Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John Rodger Nelson, Alfred Jackson, and Omarr Baker. In his 19-page order, Judge Eide accepted their claims to Prince’s estate, stating,
“The court is not aware of any objection or dispute with the statement that these persons are the siblings or half-siblings.”
Judge Eide ordered that Tyka Nelson and her three half-siblings, Sharon, Norrine and John Rodger Nelson undergo genetic testing to confirm they are rightful heirs. The judge did not order genetic testing for half-brothers Alfred Jackson and Omar Baker, who shared a mother with Prince.
Judge Eide also ordered genetic testing for Brianna and Victoria Nelson, who claim to be Prince’s niece and grandniece, respectively. They are the daughter and granddaughter of the late Duane Nelson Sr., whom they contend was one of Prince’s half-siblings. Attorneys representing Brianna and Victoria Nelson have filed a constitutional challenge to the requirement that they substantiate their claims with genetic evidence. Their attorneys contend the requirement violates federal and state constitutional equal protection laws: “The Minnesota Probate Code does not limit heirs in this way. Even if the Probate Code did permit such limitations, the protocol’s blanket exclusion of entire classes of family relationships violates the fundamental protections of due process and equal protection accorded by the U.S. Constitution.” The attorneys argue that Prince referred to Duane Nelson Sr. as his brother, and that no sibling had a closer relationship to him. (John L. Nelson’s name appears as father on both Prince’s and Duane’s birth certificates, though they were born a few months apart to different women.) “The proposed protocol does not recognize that John Nelson held out Duane as his son,” they said, and further argue that current protocol fails to recognize family relationships like the one Duane had with Prince. The judge plans to hold hearings in November 2016 on the issues related to Brianna and Victoria Nelson, and the order related to genetic testing.
In the same ruling acknowledging the presumptive heirs, Judge Eide excluded 29 would-be heirs to the estate. Excluded claims include
- A wife professing to marriage records classified as top secret by the CIA
- Five people who came forward claiming Prince was their biological or adoptive father
- Several others claiming their father was also Prince’s genetic parent by way of an extramarital affair with their mother.
- Also dismissed were several claims by people who described themselves as descendants of a sister of Prince’s great-grandfather.
- Lastly, Carlin Q. Williams, a 39-year-old prisoner, claimed to be Prince’s son.
Genetic testing established that he is not.
Because no will has been found, Minnesota law will determine how Prince’s estate will be distributed. Under current law, Prince’s children would inherit the estate; however, it appears Prince had no children, therefore the estate goes to his siblings. It will be apportioned in equal shares to his siblings and the nearest surviving descendants of any siblings now dead. Under Minnesota law, siblings and half-siblings are treated the same.
However, Prince failed to do any tax or estate planning, so his heirs should not expect to receive the full amount of his estate after he dies. The Internal Revenue Service will take up to 40% and the State of Minnesota will take another 16%.
At Tyka Nelson’s request, the court appointed Bremer Trust to serve as special administrator of the estate pending the appointment of an executor, following the court officially naming the legal heirs. Bremer has begun selling some of Prince’s real estate holdings in anticipation of the estate taxes that will be incurred. Judge Eide ruled that Bremer Trust may also hire and retain “identified entertainment industry experts” through November 2, 2016 – the day that Bremer’s role overseeing and managing the estate is set to expire. According to Eide,
“There are business-related decisions which need to be made promptly on behalf of the Estate and the Special Administrator needs the advice of industry experts to make these decisions in a prudent manner.”