With a hefty tax bill due in less than two weeks, a Minnesota state court will spend Thursday morning sifting through proposals from Prince’s likely heirs to decide who should permanently administer his estate, estimated to be worth between $100 million and $300 million. The artist’s apparent failure to leave behind a will or any estate planning could mean that state and federal taxes — due Jan. 21 — may claim nearly half of the estate.
In December, Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson initially named two banks, Fiduciary Trust Co. International and Comerica Bank & Trust N.A., as candidates to step in for Bremer Trust — which has served as the estate’s temporary special administrator since shortly after the superstar’s death last April, but chose not to stay on as the estate’s permanent representative. After four of Prince’s half-siblings expressed a preference for Comerica, Fiduciary Trust withdrew abruptly on Wednesday morning. The ramifications of that move — and whether Comerica will automatically step into the role — were unclear at press time, but the ultimate determination will be made by Judge Kevin Eide of the Carver County District Court. (Representatives for the estate and Prince’s siblings did not immediately respond to Billboard’s request for comment.)
There’s a much sharper disagreement between the heirs over who should advise the bank about how to capitalize on Prince’s musical legacy. Half-brother Omarr Baker wants to appoint CNN commentator and nonprofit organizer Van Jones as an additional personal representative. After Prince’s death, it was revealed that Jones quietly advised the musician on his charitable donations and humanitarian efforts.
But Jones is also Baker’s attorney, and at least three of the other half-siblings are not on board with this proposal. Sharon, Norrine, and John Nelson prefer L. Londell McMillan, an entertainment attorney who worked with Prince in the ‘90s. Last year, McMillan and longtime music business executive Charles Koppelman (who, as head of EMI Records, signed Prince to his first post-Warner Bros. record deal in 1996) were hired by Bremer, with the probate court’s authorization, to secure business agreements on behalf of the estate, and McMillan has already helped negotiate several wide-reaching deals related to Prince’s assets.
Prince died April 21 from an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. Because he left no will, Judge Eide and Bremer spent much of 2016 fielding numerous claims from people insisting they were related to Prince, few of whom presented a strong enough case to even warrant genetic testing. In the end, the heirs to the estate are likely to be the six people listed on the initial filing with the court: sister Tyka Nelson and half-siblings Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John Nelson, Omarr Baker, and Alfred Jackson.
When Bremer’s initial appointment ended in November, the bank told Judge Eide it did not wish to stay on as the estate’s permanent representative, though it agreed to an extended temporary appointment while a successor was chosen. The bank has since filed an accounting of the estate’s assets that not only listed a dozen properties in Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs but also revealed that Prince had invested in 67 10-ounce gold bars, worth about $840,000, and that his companies held on to $6 million in cash.
In December, Tyka Nelson asked the court to quickly appoint a permanent personal representative. Stating “over a dozen national financial institutions have been vetted,” she named Fiduciary Trust Co. International as her first pick, with Comerica Bank & Trust N.A. as an acceptable second choice. Nelson also asked the court to name a temporary successor to Bremer, expressing fears that the bank would “immediately resign” heirs scrambling rush to prepare tax filings.
Bremer disputed Nelson’s claim that there was a “emergency” need for a temporary successor, restating its intention to stay on till a permanent replacement was chosen. The bank also said that it had already prepared preliminary filings related to the estate tax, due Jan. 21, including a partial payment and a request for an extension.
But a significant clash over who should assist the bank in administering Prince’s entertainment assets could be harder to settle. Sharon, Norrine Nelson and John Nelson objected to Baker’s choice of Jones, saying it presented a conflict of interest and that the attorney lacked “experience negotiating or administering music contracts.” In turn Baker expressed concerns over the “current contractual and personal relationship” between McMillan and the half-siblings arguing for his selection.
In the weeks leading up to the tax deadline, Koppelman and McMillan have helped Bremer license many of Prince’s assets in order to generate the cash needed to pay the bill. The estate reached an agreement with Warner Bros. in October, which made possible the greatest hits package Prince 4Ever and the deluxe Purple Rain reissue slated for this year, and entered into a deal in November making Universal Music Publishing Group the exclusive publishing administrator for Prince’s catalog.
Similarly, sources tell Billboard that a possible deal with streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music is expected to close in time for this year’s Grammy Awards. Yesterday afternoon, the estate announced a global licensing deal for merchandise and branding with Bravado, which is also part of the Universal Music Group, and just this morning, Irving Azoff’s performing-rights organization Global Rights Management announced that it has signed a deal with Bremer to represent Prince’s entire catalog globally.