The famed recording artist Prince died leaving an unknown fortune and possibly no will or estate plan to dictate what to do with that fortune. Prince's sister, Tyka Nelson, told the probate court in the Minnesota county where Prince lived that her brother did not have a will, which means his estate could be in court for years and exhaust millions of dollars in court fees and unnecessary taxes. Ms. Nelson filed an emergency order for the appointment of a special administrator to protect Prince’s assets, even as those assets are swelling.

Prince owned several properties at his death as well as the rights to hundreds of songs; estimates put his estate's value at between $100 million and $300 million. It is possible a will may still be found, but under state law, if there is no estate plan in place, Prince's six siblings – one sister and five half-siblings -- will share his estate. In Minnesota, half-siblings and full siblings are treated equally when it comes to inheritance.

Ironically for someone who was known for his privacy, dying intestate -- without a will -- also means that Prince’s estate will be open to public scrutiny. In addition, if everything passes through probate, his estate will likely face a large estate tax bill that might have been at least partially avoided.

Moreover, Prince's estate may not be distributed as he may have wished. For example, Prince was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. If he wanted to leave anything to the church or to another charity, those distributions will not be made without a written estate plan. In the absence of clear instructions, there are likely to be lawsuits over the distribution and administration of his estate. Prince also left a number of unreleased songs that he may not have wanted made public, but without other guidance, those songs along with his entire music catalog will now be under the control of the estate administrator.

You don't have to be worth millions to learn a lesson from Prince's apparent mistake. The only way to ensure that your assets get distributed the way you want is to create an estate plan. Not having an estate plan can similarly cost your heirs time and money in unwanted court battles and fees. Contact your attorney to make sure your estate plan is in place and up to date.

“Prince was a major star and a cultural influencer, but he was a human being,” Kenneth J. Abdo, an entertainment lawyer in Minneapolis, told the New York Times. “It comes down to taking care of business. If you don’t take care of it, you’re leaving a mess to the family or the courts.”

For more information about Prince's estate, click here, here and here.

For the ElderLawAnswers article “What Happens If You Die Without a Will?,” click here.

For more on estate planning, click here.