Battle Royal looming over Prince’s Estate?

Advice  |   27 April 2016

Rock star Prince is the latest in a slew of high-profile entertainers to die in recent months, but seemingly the first to do so without a Will.

Rock star Prince is the latest in a slew of high-profile entertainers to die in recent months, but seemingly the first to do so without a Will. Reports in the press on 26th April indicate that those close to him believe he did not make a Will before he died.

The flamboyant singer, who was found dead at the age of 57 at his home in Minnesota last week, left a valuable estate. Estimates of its size vary between $150 million and $800 million.

But who will inherit from him if there is no Will? Prince had no spouse, having been divorced twice, and he had no surviving children or parents. His only full-blood relation is a younger sister, aged 55 and known as Tyka Nelson. However he does have five half-siblings from his father's second marriage. With such a lot at stake, they may well try to argue that as half-siblings they have a claim to the estate as well.

Both "sources close to the family" and his former lawyer have said that he had not made a Will. The lawyer, Londell McMillan, is quoted in the press as saying, "He couldn't face it. He didn't think he would die."

But what happens in these circumstances? Let's imagine Prince was an Englishman who passed away at his home in London. If a person dies without making a Will, then the "intestacy rules" apply. These are a set of rules enshrined in legislation which fill the gap where someone has not made a Will to deal with their assets on their death. These rules determine who will inherit and how much they will get.

If you don't make a Will, then you are in effect making a choice by default that the intestacy rules will govern who gets your estate when you die. If the rules had applied to Prince, his entire estate would pass to his sister Tyka and the half-siblings would not receive a penny. Nor would anyone else.

It is possible to rearrange inheritances so that they are fairer or more appropriate. For example, in England, Tyka could enter into a Deed of Variation and share her inheritance with her half-siblings. This redirection of part of her inheritance would be seen from the point of view of the taxman as passing directly from Prince to the half-siblings. Tyka would not be considered as having made a gift herself.

However, whichever country in the world you die in, you can never count on those lucky enough to inherit being sufficiently generous to share their bounty with other family members. If you want to benefit a wider circle of friends and relatives than those specified in the intestacy rules, it's far better to make a Will.

Prince didn't think he would die, but of course he was wrong – we are all mortal and our lives will end at some point. Most people will live a long life, and only a small number will be as unlucky as Prince. But of course we never know which category we will fall into.

It is far better to leave things in an orderly fashion and to provide for those we care for by making a Will. Remember: if you don't, then you are choosing to allow the rules of intestacy to decide who gets your riches. There are many ways in which you can make arrangements to cover uncertainty about how to deal with your estate – talk to one of our specialist lawyers for advice on this and any other topic associated with Wills and tax planning.

Contact: Jill MacMahon