The legendary rivalry between superstars Prince and Michael Jackson apparently extends beyond the grave in terms of whose estate is more difficult to navigate. While Michael Jackson had a valid will when he died, controversy surrounded the appointment of an executor, and there remains an ongoing battle between the Jackson family and government agencies regarding the actual value of the estate. Meanwhile, Prince, notoriously shrewd in business and control of his art and image, didn’t even leave a will. Having died unmarried with no children (despite the numerous claims of a variety of pretenders to his throne), his statutory heirs comprise of siblings and half-siblings, and up to half of his estate will be paid to state and federal tax agencies. Of course, the federal government and state of Minnesota are claiming the Purple One’s holdings are worth much more than the heirs claim, meaning his tax bill will be greater as well. Moreover, the famous vault of unreleased material might double the value of his estate. Had Prince done some basic estate planning, he could have selected specific beneficiaries and avoid probate altogether.
Prince could have established a living trust for all of his assets and future royalties. He could have determined who gets what and how his assets were to be disbursed upon his death. For example, he could have created a charitable foundation, possibly eliminating death taxes altogether, while supporting generations of aspiring artists and social causes that were dear to him. He could have decided ahead of time whom would be his chosen representative in death. Instead, Prince’s legacy has been left to courts, government agencies, and bankers. The costs to Prince’s estate will total in the hundreds of millions, most of which could have been avoided. The federal government tax rate is 40% while the state sets currently at 16%, which will also be applied to any of Prince’s work that ultimately is published.
After the shock of his untimely death, Prince’s friends, fans, and admirers were baffled to learn that Prince had entirely neglected to put his affairs in order. I can’t help but wonder whether Prince’s will has yet to surface, perhaps hidden by him in a poem or buried in another vault somewhere. We all know that Prince was an enigma. Meanwhile, let this serve as a reminder to all of us that our estate planning should not be neglected. In my opinion, we have a moral responsibility to put our affairs in order for our loved ones.