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Davis Brown Tax Law Blog

Tax Law Blog: Updates on the Estate of Prince - October 17, 2016

The interesting issues with Prince’s estate continue.  Previously, I discussed that he died intestate, meaning he did not have any sort of will or other testamentary instrument. Since he didn’t have a will, his family members would receive his property based on Minnesota state law. He was unmarried and believed to have no children. The result: various people coming forward claiming to be distant relatives, including some claiming to be half-siblings, and some stating they were unknown children.


Since my last blog post, the district court judge has dismissed numerous claims of people alleging they are related (including one who claimed she was secretly married to Prince), and has ordered blood tests for the few remaining individuals. This case is making the news because Prince was a celebrity, and a lot of money is at stake. Blood tests to prove (or disprove) a relation for inheritance purposes is not as rare as you might think. When money is at stake, individuals come from all angles claiming to be related to the deceased, and sometimes a blood test is the only way to determine whether the individuals are in fact related.  


While blood tests are used when previously unknown persons claim a relationship, it is also becoming more common for an estate to use an heir search firm to locate lost heirs. Heir search firms are most often used when there is some information about one or more particular persons, but the estate has limited information on that person.


For example, if the only relatives of a deceased person are cousins, then all cousins (from both sides of the family) must be located, which may be a difficult task.  If a cousin on the mother’s side comes forward, they may have little or no information about cousins on the father’s side.  Heir search firms start with any information you can provide, and then examine public records to piece together more. With all the publicity Prince’s estate is receiving, I do not think an heir search firm will be needed.


The other ongoing question is how much Prince’s estate is worth. Bremer Trust, appointed by the court to act as the representative of the estate, requested court permission to sell various pieces of real estate Prince owned (but not Paisley Park). The value of those properties will not be problematic to determine; it will likely be determined based on an appraisal or on the sale price. However, other items, like a library of previously unreleased music, can be extremely difficult to value. Similarly, a celebrity’s personal property may pose challenges to value (and sell).  The average person’s clothing has little value, but I expect Prince may have owned some very valuable items.


Though his estate will not be settled for quite some time, expect many of his assets to be sold in the near future as the estate prepares to pay what could be a very high estate tax bill.  Estate tax returns are due 9 months after the date of death. Though the estate can apply for an automatic 6-month extension of time to file, the estimated tax owed must be paid prior to the original (not extended) due date to avoid penalties.