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Prince’s Estate Shows the Importance of Naming Your Executor

Published on: Mar 18 2021

Many of us can learn a lesson about the importance of choosing executors from the legal actions involving the estate of Prince Rogers Nelson, the late entertainer known as “Prince.”

Prince was a successful musician, entertainer and record producer. He died at age 57 and left a valuable and complicated estate. He apparently left no valid will. He was twice divorced and unmarried at the time of his death and had no offspring. Prince had numerous full- and half-siblings.

Two of the siblings predeceased Prince. One of those siblings had a child. These people and others claimed to be rightful heirs to part of the estate.

By not having a will, Prince wasn’t able to select the executor of his estate. Prince passed in Minnesota, where the law states that when someone dies without appointing an executor, a court will appoint an administrator who is acceptable to a majority of those with an interest in the estate. When a majority of the potential heirs can’t agree on an executor, the court can appoint any suitable person.

One of Prince’s siblings petitioned a court to appoint the bank Bremer Trust as executor and was able to persuade the others to consent. Bremer Trust was appointed.

But after a while, Bremer Trust re-signed, and the court appointed another bank as executor. All that activity caused delays in administering and processing the estate. There probably was lost income and some wasting of assets.

The executor controls many important decisions. The executor selects the various professionals who will help identify the estate’s assets and value them.

Of course, the professionals who file the estate tax return and handle any disputes with the IRS are selected by the executor.The estate now is in a dispute with the IRS over the taxable value of the estate, with the IRS claiming the estate is worth more than twice the amount listed on the estate tax return.

The executor also determines who will manage the various assets of the estate, hopefully with an eye toward maximizing their long-term value.Prince owned unique assets, many of which are copyrights or other intellectual property. He also had firm ideas on how these assets should and shouldn’t be managed.

It’s likely he had ideas about who should participate in managing the assets when he wasn’t able to, but those ideas weren’t available to his executor.

In this estate, as in many others, the choice of executor determines much more of what happens. An executor determines whether there is transparency about the estate and fairness to the heirs. An executor also controls the extent to which the deceased’s wishes and goals are respected or ignored, among many other issues.

Because Prince died without preparing a will, he didn’t have a say in even the basic decision of who should be his executor. Even in a much less valuable and complicated estate, the choice of executor is important.

Everyone should take the opportunity to name an executor and carefully consider who should be designated.

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