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Prince’s parting lesson: draft a will

The iconic musical artist Prince died with a $250 million estate and no will.
The iconic musical artist Prince died with a $250 million estate and no will. AP

How could Prince die without a will? He didn’t amass a $250 million estate just through exceptional musical talent. He was also a shrewd businessman. Two years ago, Prince took control of his musical catalog and related copyrights, and negotiated a new contract with Warner Bros. His estate will reap at least $100 million on royalties alone over the next few years.

Prince was hands-on with the business side of music. He shunned attorneys, preferring to deal directly with record studios and concert promoters, and made a point of controlling his legacy. Prince fought to remove his songs from YouTube and cut deals directly with digital music providers.

Yet he neglected to decide what would happen to his estate after death, leaving behind unanswered questions instead of a plan. Who will control his “vault” of unrecorded music? Where will his fortune go? Prince died unmarried and without living parents, and his only child died shortly after birth. Surviving family members include a sister and five half-siblings. Observers expect a will contest, and additional claims against the estate are likely. One thing is certain: Attorneys will benefit lavishly, as will the federal government and the state of Minnesota.

Amazingly, it is not unusual for the rich and famous to die without a will. Jimi Hendrix, Pablo Picasso, Bob Marley, Howard Hughes, Sonny Bono and Abraham Lincoln all died without a will. Some sources estimate that more than 55 percent of adult Americans do not have a will or estate plan. Only 41 percent of baby boomers (ages 55 to 64) have a will. Only 32 percent of African-Americans have one, and only 26 percent of Latinos.

Procrastination goes a ways toward explaining why so many of us fail to invest the time to create an estate plan. On a more earthly level, it’s uncomfortable to decide who will be in charge or who will benefit upon one’s death. As an estate planning attorney, I often hear clients express fear of giving offense. “If I pick my son Johnny to be in charge of my business, won’t Beth be angry?”

In this one area, don’t be like Prince – or Pablo Picasso or Abraham Lincoln. If you do not have a will or estate plan, get busy. Plan for taxes. Decide who will be in charge. Decide who gets what. Decide not to let the government, or attorneys, get your inheritance.

Jack B. Osborn is an estate planning attorney in Redlands, Calif.

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