No one would have predicted that the emotional story of a music icon’s untimely death would devolve into a cautionary tale better suited for the pages of a legal journal than for those of Rolling Stone. And yet as fans await word on the cause of Prince’s demise, it is his will – or rather his lack of one – that is making headlines. So far, the news is relatively benign. Could the wrangling over his estate turn ugly? Maybe. Is there a lesson here for everyone? Definitely.
Prince died with vast and varied wealth that includes real estate, an extensive music catalog, and unique memorabilia. Had he carefully considered it, he undoubtedly would have had a specific purpose for much of that wealth after his death – perhaps a legacy for his beloved community, a thank you for his artistic collaborators, or peace of mind for close family members. Prince could have done all of this, and more, in a will. Leaving a will would have allowed him to control exactly how, and to whom, his wealth would be distributed. Not leaving a will subjects his wealth to distribution in accordance with state law. There are siblings who stand to benefit, some of whom had no contact with him. A tabloid report hints at a child. Chances are good that more heirs may surface before Prince’s estate is settled. Chances are better that those heirs will end up fighting in court. But the lessons of Prince’s estate are applicable to everyone, regardless of estate size or value.