As we’ve all seen in the news, musician Prince passed away on April 21, 2016 at the age of 57. According to news sources, on April 26, just five days later, one of Prince’s six siblings, his sister Tyka Nelson, filed documents with the Carver County probate court stating “I do not know of the existence of a Will and have no reason to believe that the Decedent executed testamentary documents in any form.” News sources have gone crazy, announcing that Prince died without a Will directing who should inherit his estate and therefore his six siblings will inherit everything. But is this actually true? Maybe, maybe not.
We don’t know about you, but, except for the fact that this is what we do for a living, our brothers (we each only have one sibling) would probably have no idea if we have a Will (or other estate planning) in place. Maybe he would get around to going through all of our files to see if we have one stored somewhere or find the name of our lawyer in six days, but that’s pretty unlikely, given all of the things that typically take place immediately after someone dies (think, funeral, grieving, etc.). Tyka may be absolutely correct – We’re not saying she’s not, but we don’t think that her statement that she doesn’t know of a Will conclusively means there isn’t one. As of yesterday, TIME Magazine online reported that Bremer Trust Company was appointed by a judge to temporarily oversee Prince’s estate for six, which indicates that the court is not closing on the door on a possible Will being produced.
Many states have several requirements and deadlines for the presentment of a Will to the probate court. In Missouri, for example, if you’re in physical possession of a decedent’s will, Missouri law requires that you deliver the Will to the probate court. This could be a family member who finds the Will while going through the decedent’s files, it could be the decedent’s lawyer who retained the Will for safekeeping. If no other Will has previously been delivered to the probate court, a Will can be presented up to one year after the decedent’s date of death and still be admitted to probate. If an estate is already opened and someone has a different Will in their possession, that Will must be presented to the court within six months of an estate being opened or within thirty days after the beginning of a will contest, whichever occurs later. If a Will is not presented within the applicable timelines, then the Will is barred from ever being admitted to probate. However, some states, like Florida, require a Will to be filed with the court within ten (10) days of the notice of death. It’s been less than a week since Prince’s death, and it is likely Minnesota has similar laws granting additional time to present a Will to the probate court.
Let’s think about this. Unless Prince and his sister had discussed his lack of estate planning, she would have needed to contact every one of his advisors or search his entire home to determine if he had any estate planning documents. Have you seen Prince’s house? It’s huge!
Searching for clues will probably take a while. Whoever searches the house may find safe deposit box keys or correspondence from an attorney. Any of these types of clues would have to be examined before a probate court would accept her statement that no Will could be found. Also, you have to wait for the applicable waiting period (one year in Missouri) for someone else to produce a Will. And all of this ignores the fact that, if Prince had done estate planning through the use of trusts, nothing may need to be filed with the probate court.
What seems more likely, this early in the game, is that, while Prince’s family and advisors take the time necessary to search for a Will, they probably wanted an executor appointed by the court to handle his financial estate so that it is protected in the meantime. Therefore, we shouldn’t rush and jump to conclusions just yet.