Probate nightmares surround entertainer’s estate administration

The California courts often are called upon to administer the estates of deceased celebrities and entertainers. Sometimes the probate of such matters is simple, and  other times it is complicated. Possibly none can compare in complexity and chaos to the estate of Prince, which has been litigated in another jurisdiction for over a year.

The problem is that Prince left no will. That meant that identification of his heirs would be by the succession statutes of state law. Naming the sequence of heirs entitled to share in the estate under state law was easy; identifying the individuals who qualified in those categories became extremely demanding and contentious.

The litigation between would-be heirs and authentic heirs has gone on unabated and has cost the estate and its administrators significant amounts of time and money. Just recently, after hundreds of petitions and dozens of hearings, the county judge in Minnesota declared Prince’s sister and five half-siblings to be the heirs. That does not spell an end to the litigation because appeals are allowed from probate decisions in all states.

Due to the uncertainty still existing as a result of the possibility of appellate court appeals by shunned heirs, the local probate judge has indicated that only limited distributions may be allowed. He will not approve any substantial distributions that would interfere with the potential asset claims of any appellant claimants. To further add to the quagmire, millions in unpaid legal fees are now being pressed to the probate court for payment.

The disputes over legal fees incurred by the heirs have in themselves turned into substantial litigation battles. Of course, the lesson to be learned, whether one resides in California or another state, is that if one is in doubt, better be safe than sorry. Get a consultation with an estate planning attorney and make a will, along with the other basic legal documents that are recommended by the attorney. Prince’s estate would have completed probate and been finalized by now if there had been a will and other instructions from the decedent.

Source: startribune.com, “Judge officially rules 6 people as heirs to Prince’s fortune“, David Chanen, May 19, 2017

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