Who will inherit Prince's fortune? It may take years to sort out.
On Tuesday, Prince's sister filed papers in court saying she is unaware of a will and requested that a special administrator be appointed to oversee her late brother's estate.
In legal documents filed in Minnesota, Tyka Nelson claimed that she has no knowledge that a will exists and that “immediate action and decisions” need to be made to manage Prince's business interests.
Among the assets at stake is a catalog of music that would likely include a royalty stream for some of pop music's most recognizable tunes, such as “Purple Rain,” “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss.”
His sister is asking the court that Bremer Trust, a corporate trust company, be named administrator of the estate. The documents say Bremer Bank provided financial services to Prince for many years.
Prince died Thursday at his home, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, Minn. Estimates of his estate range from $150 million to $300 million.
The pop star was married twice, and both relationships ended in divorce. He had one child, Boy Gregory, who was born in 1996 with Pfeiffer syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. The infant died shortly after birth.
Nelson's court papers argue that Bremer is in the “best position” of any corporate trust company to protect Prince's assets “pending the appointment of a personal representative.”
Prince, who was 57, employed a number of lawyers during his career, making it difficult to ascertain the existence of a will. If he failed to draft one, the posthumous administration of his estate could become complicated.
“He was an intelligent person, and he should've known that he ought to provide for that,” said L. Lee Phillips, an attorney who represented Prince for years but not at the time of the singer's death. “The longer one doesn't pop up, the more likely there isn't a will.”
In the absence of a will, Minnesota law states that the pop star's assets would go to his closest surviving relatives — Nelson, who is his lone full sibling, and several half siblings.
The law states that half siblings have as much claim to an inheritance as full siblings.
The estate could potentially take years to settle, according to Anta Cissé-Green, an attorney who specializes in estate and trust issues for wealthy individuals.
“It's an unusual situation to amass this amount of wealth and not have a will. It means there could be a potential legal battle,” she said.
Potential disputes could focus on who will be appointed executor because his siblings are “equally entitled to handle the estate.”
The issue of royalties also could prove contentious because the estate administrator likely will have to appoint a separate individual who is knowledgeable about the entertainer's body of work.
The inheritance of a dead pop star can be extremely complex, as the Michael Jackson case proved.
Following Jackson's death in 2009, a number of successive wills materialized, resulting in some legal confusion. Eventually, his 2002 will left his entire estate to a family trust.
But negotiations over various issues have dragged on for years, in part because Jackson was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt at the time of his death. In March, Sony agreed to pay the Jackson estate $750 million for its share of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalog.
Prince's personal finances remain unclear, as do the details of his 2014 contract with Warner Bros. Records, under which he buried the hatchet with the company and reportedly regained ownership of master recordings he made during his previous deal.
The pop star has had a long relationship with Warner Bros. but famously fell out with the company during the 1990s, calling it a “slave” label.
On Thursday morning, an employee at Paisley Park found him in an elevator on the first floor of the building. He was unresponsive. Officials pronounced him dead at 10:07 a.m.
An autopsy on Prince was completed, but officials haven't released a cause of death.
“The truth is that we're in a holding pattern,” said Jason Kamerud, chief deputy at the Carver County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota. He said he is waiting for analysis from the medical examiner and toxicologist.
Kamerud said he expects to have preliminary autopsy results as early as this week, but without toxicology results, “it is incomplete.”