It is not uncommon for a person to claim to be related to royalty or to a famous historical figure. It’s
a low-stakes boast that is difficult to verify and generally passes unchallenged. However, when a Minnesota man passed away on April 21st of 2016, 700 people claimed him as a brother and tried to carve off a piece of his estate for their own.
When Prince Rogers Nelson, singer of “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry,” tragically passed away from an accidental drug overdose, he did not leave behind an estate plan, which caused Prince’s estate to be subject to the judicial process known as probate. Probate is how we ascertain who owns an asset when the true owner has passed away without designating beneficiaries or joint owners of that asset.
Since Prince did not leave a will that directed where and to whom his property should go when he passed, the courts of Minnesota had to use the laws of intestacy, which is a bit like a One-Size-Fit
s-All will. Because Prince left no spouse or children, siblings were next in line to inherit. Quickly, the vultures started circling and over 700 people claimed to be Prince’s half-sibling or sec
ret love-child. After hundreds of DNA tests, mountains of paperwork, and six years of legal wrangling, the Prince Estate was finally approved for distribution in August of 2022 to his full sister and five half-siblings. In the end, less than one percent of the people who claimed to be an heir were determined to be valid by the courts.
The tragedy is that the entire process could have easily been avoided with a little planning. Prince worked hard during his lifetime to protect his copyrights and intellectual property, even suing social media companies and arguably abusing the DMCA takedown process with his aggressive pursuit of copyright infringement claims. It is such a shame then, that Prince did not take the time to protect his music and legacy after his passing.
Can you imagine how frustrated Prince would be to see the rights to his life’s work being divvied up by stuffy judges and old men wearing suits and ties? I am sure that Prince would have preferred for his songs and films to be handled respectfully by someone who was familiar with his life and art.
Fortunately for you, there is still time to protect your family and property by making sure you have a well-crafted estate plan in place. Talk to an estate planning attorney today!
Attorney Nathan Begley is an estate planning and probate attorney in Gresham, Oregon, and is the owner of Gresham Family and Elder Law.