Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

Prince: No will means artist's intentions now disregarded

The sudden death of music icon Prince in 2016 left many people in shock. What surprised those who knew him best even more, however, was that the man who had so zealously guarded his intellectual property during his lifetime died without a will.

Without a will, a judge — not Prince — decides what happens with the artist's work. If Prince's preferences during his lifetime are any clue about what he might have wanted done with his work and likeness after his death, he probably wouldn't approve of what's happening now.

The court generally takes a "bottom dollar" viewpoint when it comes to the value of an estate, especially where there is untapped potential income that could vastly increase the estate's value. This not only ultimately increases what the heirs stand to receive, it meets the court's legal requirement to get the ultimate amount of estate taxes for the Internal Revenue Service.

Because of that obligation, the judge issued a mandate to the representatives of his estate to maximize the value of Prince's music catalog, name, likeness and other potential assets. The mandate prompted the estate's representatives to team up with Universal Music Group and other marketing companies in order to make his work more broadly available to consumers.

For example, Prince's music had been largely absent from popular streaming services in recent years because the artist was unhappy with how musicians were treated by the streaming industry. Now, his music is expected to be available for streaming as early as next month. Merchandise with the singer's likeness will also be available soon, and tours of the notoriously reclusive singer's Paisley Park home are now available for $38.50.

Part of the rush is that there's a need to come up with a dollar figure that can be used for estate tax purposes. Right now, estimates of the value of Prince's estate range from as low as $50 million to as high as $200 million.

All of this could have been avoided with proper estate planning, including a will. For example, actor Robin Williams left his intellectual property to his charitable foundation, eliminating any tax issues and preserving his legacy forever.

The lesson to learn from from this situation is that if you're a creative person with assets including intellectual properties, proper estate planning is a must if you care what happens to those assets after you're gone.

Source: National Post, "Obligation to 'maximize value': With no will, Prince loses the control he zealously guarded," Lucas Shaw, Jan. 18, 2017

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