Last week, the music-loving world was stunned by news of the sudden passing of Prince Rogers Nelson, better known by just his first name — the Minneapolis-raised musical genius who recorded hits such as “Raspberry Beret,” “1999” and “When Doves Cry.” While his death at the young age of 57 is still surrounded by mystery, the circumstances offer some wider lessons for us all.
First, the loss of a musical icon. In response, the globe went from “Purple Rain” to purple lights, as a number of significant structures were lit up in various shades of Prince’s signature color, including the Eiffel Tower, Target Field in Minneapolis and Detroit’s Renaissance Center. A multitude of tributes were expressed online and on the air. Even the U.S. Senate, which has managed not to do much in recent years, approved a resolution honoring Prince for his achievements as a musician, composer, innovator and cultural icon.
Prince was, indeed, a musical icon. While Prince was musical royalty, though, he was definitely human, and may have made a few errors along the way. Sadly, one of those is going to make for an ugly public sideshow, as Prince died without a known will. A bank he used, Bremer Trust, has been appointed to manage his $300 million estate during the probate process.
Prince was divorced and had no living children or parents who could clearly inherit the millions to come from his estate. Tyka Nelson is Prince’s only full sibling, but the two have five half-siblings, all of whom are also potential heirs, according to Minnesota law. Without a will, Minnesota law states that his estate would go to his sister and his half-siblings. They would control his brand, including Prince’s NPG record label and thousands of unreleased songs. Sometimes when this happens, family members figure out how to get along. But, unfortunately, that is not always the case.
There is a possibility that Prince did determine what he wanted to do with his estate, but details have not been brought out in public. It is possible that Prince could have established a trust, which is an alternative to a will.
Regardless, this isn’t very cut-and-dry, and it is not going away anytime soon. And what’s potentially worse is a lot of dirty laundry will likely come out as part of the process. A probate judge will need to determine the validity of claims to Prince’s estate, and most probate court cases are open to the public.
The fragility of life far too often catches us by surprise. Thankfully, most of us aren’t living in the celebrity world, and our privacy and legacy will likely be safe from prying eyes. However, just because we aren’t part of that world doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared for the twists and turns of life.
Planning for death is really two things: what happens after you die, and what happens if you’re ill and unable to handle decisions yourself. For the former, you should consult an attorney and draw up a last will and testament, which designates what happens with your property, guardianship of children, and names the executor who carries out your wishes. For the latter, you need a living will (also known as an “advance healthcare directive”) and a power of attorney (which names the person who can attend to financial or legal matters if you fall ill or are unable to handle them for yourself).
Be prepared. It will save you, your loved ones and your heirs a lot of grief should the unexpected occur.