Prince, Musician

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Prince may have been worth upward of $300 million when he died last week, suddenly and most untimely at the age of only 57.

And according to his younger sister Tyka Nelson, his closest known survivor, the legendary (and legendarily eccentric) artist did not have a will.

That on its own sounds most shocking, a man of his wealth not having every base covered in case anything happened to him. Not to mention, in addition to being a creative visionary, Prince was a shrewd businessman who owned all of his recording and publishing copyrights—an almost unheard-of deal these days—and exercised close control over use of his music and image. He didn't seem like the type of guy who, if you asked him about money, would just say his accountant handled everything. Not that you'd ever ask him about his finances.

Then again, he was also Prince, who famously had major issues with the state of the music business as a whole, so who knows what he was thinking? Is there a chance he believed what everyone else did before last Thursday, that he was immortal and would live on in his purple Paisley Park palace forever? We all wished that had been the case, but stupid reality and its consequences reared their heartbreaking heads.

Still, there's very much the possibility that Prince knew exactly what he was doing. That in death, too, there is a method to his madness—just as there always was in his life. After all, we've witnessed the families of deceased artists try to tear each other to shreds in court—and that's with a will. (The sordid aftermath of James Brown's death comes to mind.)

So what happens now?

Prince, SNL 40th Anniversary After-Party

Tim Kazurinsky / YouTube

Tyka Nelson, also a singer, filed documents in a Minnesota court today petitioning for the appointment of a special administrator who, in light of her late brother having no will, would oversee the distribution of Prince's assets to her and potential other relatives.

Under state law, if the decedent doesn't leave a will, their assets are distributed to any remaining relatives. But of course, in this case we're not just talking about a house, a little cash and the good china.

Not only is Prince's existing music catalog worth millions of dollars and, like Michael Jackson's estate, is expected to only increase in value now that he's gone, but there is now the promise of the existence of a vast vault containing decades' worth of recordings that have never been heard. And someone is going to get control of all of that musical gold.

Prince, Obit, Grammy Museum Mural, LA

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

"Right now Tyka is in charge of everything," a Minneapolis-based source told E! News today. "It's not contentious. But it's still early."

Nelson did not ask that she be appointed executor of her brother's estate, but rather Bremer Trust, a neutral corporate trustee that Prince had worked with "for a number of years" and which had "knowledge of his personal-financial and business-financial affairs." A legal source also tells E! News that the court will undoubtedly approve her petition, "no question," because the proposed administrator is a professional, licensed trust company.

The source explains that there will be a hearing to appoint the administrator—there's no word yet on whether it will be expedited or routinely added to the court docket—and that it should be open to the public. Nelson can attend or it can be held ex parte if it's considered an urgent situation, and if so it doesn't have to take place in a courtroom so long as a judge is presiding.

Tyka Nelson, Prince's Sister

AP Photo/Steve Karnowski

There is some urgency to appoint an administrator to represent the estate, our source adds, but otherwise there's nothing unusual about Nelson's petition, considering the circumstances. Moreover, Prince's estate will be what is considered "open" for the foreseeable future and any executor(s) will be busy handling licensing deals, approving music releases and taking care of all other business related to the late icon's inimitable career. They also have to do decidedly unsexy things, like pay taxes and settle debts.

Already it's assured that Prince will be among the elite group of icons that includes Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Bob Marley whose earning power has endured for years after their deaths (all of them sadly—and eerily—occurring far too soon).

And so far, there have been no probate-related surprises, other than Prince not having a will in the first place. But that could have also been all part of the master plan.

Prince, Peace Concert

NPG Records

He simply may not have wanted to leave a will, the legal source says. His assets, including his Paisley Park estate in Chanhassen, Minn.; his possessions, such as guitars and memorabilia; and that magnificent trove of music, would then be distributed to his heirs according to state law.

Each state has a default list of who qualifies as heirs: Usually first it's a spouse, then children, followed by grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and so forth. Half-siblings (Prince had five) are considered siblings, and if a sibling were to pass first, that sibling's share goes to his or her children in equal shares. If an heir is a minor, they have a guardian ad litem appointed to represent them.

Nelson's petition notes that Prince had "substantial assets consisting of personal and real property that requires protection," as well as "heirs whose identities and addresses need to be determined." Prince was twice-divorced. He had a son with first wife Mayte Garcia who died in infancy after being born with a rare genetic disorder.

And if a will does turn up, our source adds, the probate process just continues. Nelson's petition is not considered litigation; rather, it's part of a standard process to determine who Prince's beneficiaries are and how title of his assets should be transferred. If there ends up being a will, it could change who gets what, but it doesn't change what needs to be done as far as estate taxes, debt settlement, etc.

Provided no one sues.

Moreover, if Prince had set up a trust, there would be no automatic court supervision (having lawyers involved isn't the same as having a judge, et al., oversee matters), unless someone in the family sued for court intervention. Therefore Prince may have anticipated that it would be better to just leave it up to the letter of the law.

Paisley Park

Tim Roney/Getty Images

But still, just as it's conceivable that Prince may have washed his hands of postmortem legal matters or did not leave a will on purpose for a particular reason, it's almost inconceivable that he did not have a vision for the fate of his music, let alone a plan in place.

In a 2014 Q&A with Rolling Stone that was not published until last week, after he died, Prince was asked if he specifically wanted the music in his vault to come out after he was gone.

"No, I don't think about gone," he said. "I just think about in the future when I don't want to speak in real time."

Prince Memorial


The Minneapolis-born singer with the small frame but outsized presence—who sold 100 million albums, won an Oscar for Purple Rain, inspired countless other artists, obliterated preconceived notions about race or gender, eschewed his own name, then took it back and forever altered the perception of what's possible in the music business—couldn't imagine a world without him in it either.

Like apparently everyone else, he just didn't want to think about it.

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