Prince Knew Law Firms Just Wanted His ‘Extra Time’

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Prince died today and we said RIP to one of the finest songwriters of our lifetime.

President Obama called him a virtuoso and the New York Times broke down his musical essence:

His most immediately recognizable (and widely imitated) instrumental style was a particular kind of pinpoint, staccato funk, defined as much by keyboards as by the rhythm section.

Around our office, Purple Rain quietly pulsed in a set of headphones. Elsewhere, we wondered who his lawyers were and what they were doing.

A quick docket and Google search showed that he had used a smattering of lawyers — Rhonda Trotter, Kaye ScholerGary Stiffelman, Greenberg TraurigMatthew Nelles, Broad and Cassel — for various reasons, from record negotiations to copyright lawsuits, in the span of his career.

One question we had was who would get his fortune, estimated to be worth $300 million, according to the Celebrity Net Worth website and as earlier reported by The International Business Times.

The Business Times explained how Prince’s death in Minnesota, where he grew up, might influence how his assets are divvied:

Prince, 57, died in his home state of Minnesota, where, in the absence of a will, inheritance laws determine how an estate is divided. He reportedly died at his estate, Paisley Park, which includes a sprawling recording studio and other buildings on a considerable stretch of land. Those properties are undoubtedly worth millions and may even become more valuable because his death occurred there.

According to Minnesota law, in the absence of a will, the estate goes to the following people in this order: closest siblings, spouse, children, grandchildren and then parents. However, Prince’s parents have been dead for more than a decade. He did have six siblings from the same father, but it’s unclear how close he was with the ones still alive (at least two have died).

None of the lawyers we turned up could tell us much about what’s in store for Prince’s estate. But one estate attorney offered her thoughts about what to expect.

Laura Zwicker, an attorney with Greenberg Glusker who represents high net worth individuals with more than $100 million in assets, said that musicians of Prince’s stature are often too busy to do much estate planning.

That often leads to messy litigation after their death, or a hard look by the IRS, she said.

“Their lives are so focused on non-financial issues; they are constantly moving, touring, playing games,” said Zwicker. “It’s really hard to get them to sit down and say, ‘Let’s talk about when you die.’ These people don’t like to think they are ever going to die.”

One estate of note is the death of Michael Jackson: The Internal Revenue Services continues to seek taxes on his estate, recently saying his name and image alone is worth more than $434 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Zwicker said that the federal estate tax liability can run as high as 40 percent of assets, which must be paid over the course of nine months. People can avoid that full tax burden, she said, by either donating to charity, or transferring assets to others while they’re living.

Whatever ends up happening with his estate, Prince left behind a history of litigation that could have left at least one law firm with unpaid legal fees.

In 2014, Prince sued 22 internet users, accusing them of sharing bootlegs of his concerts, demanding $1 million from each owner of websites and Facebook pages that he claimed enabled free distribution of recordings of his concerts. But just a couple days after he filed the case, he dropped it.

And in another instance, a law firm sued Prince for not paying his legal fees in connection with his divorce from wife Manuela Testolini. Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler sued the musician, saying he owed more than $700,000 in legal fees. It was then reported that he paid $125,000 but still owed $700,000.

At least today, we say that it sounds like the law firm just ‘wanted his extra time’….