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Who will step forward to claim Prince's millions?

03 May 2016, 12:02

Los Angeles — When he was alive, Prince made hundreds of millions of dollars — for record companies, concert venues and others. That much is certain. What's less clear is how much he left behind and who'll come forward to claim it.

Less than a week after the pop star died and an outpouring of grief and nostalgia prompted fans to buy 2.3 million of his songs in three days, it's still uncertain whether he left a will, or who will handle his estate.

Prince owned a dozen properties in and around his famous Paisley Park complex in suburban Minneapolis: mostly rural pieces of land and some houses for family members. Public records show those properties were worth about $27 million in 2016.

Estimates of how much licensing his personal brand will bring in after death reach to the purple clouds.

"He was as big as they get," said Mark Roesler, chief executive of CMG Worldwide, which handles licensing for the estates of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and other late stars.

Roesler estimates Prince's post-mortem earnings will match top-earning dead celebrities like Elvis Presley, whose estate made $55 million in 2015, according to Forbes magazine.

"Will there be a business built up around Prince 60 years from now like James Dean? The answer is unequivocally yes," said Roesler.

If Prince filed a will or created a trust, heirs to his future fortune would be known. But no such documents have yet turned up.

Under Minnesota law, a person can file a will with probate court in secret. If Prince did so, the fact one exists would become public once a death certificate is filed, but the medical examiner has not yet issued one for Prince. An autopsy was conducted Friday and his remains were cremated Saturday.

L. Londell McMillan, a longtime lawyer and former manager of the superstar, declined to comment to The Associated Press about whether the entertainer had a will or any other particulars regarding his estate, but added: "I want to make sure his legacy is respected and protected no matter what role I play." McMillan was Michael Jackson's lawyer and played a role in his estate, as well as those of rapper Notorious B.I.G. and Sammy Davis Jr.

Several other attorneys who have done work for Prince in the past — including Alan Eidsness, who handled his 2006 divorce from Manuela Testolini Nelson — said they were not handling his estate.

Wealthy people usually create trusts to avoid the public spectacle of probate court, and it's probable Prince did so, according to Irwin Feinberg, a Los Angeles trust and probate lawyer.

Prince wasn't married and had no known living children. He has one full sibling, sister Tyka Nelson, and five half-siblings (two other half-siblings have died), who could share in his estate if he has no will.

The AP did not find liens or mortgages on any of his properties, which range from a sprawling 160-acre piece of grassland between Lake Lucy and Lake Ann, to a three-bedroom bungalow in Minneapolis that is home to his half brother, Omarr Baker.

Prince sold over 100 million albums on his lifetime, according to Warner Music Group. And Pollstar, a concert industry magazine, said that in the years that his tours topped the charts — 10 years over four decades performing — the tours raked in $225 million in ticket sales.

His best-earning touring year, when he took in $87.4 million, was 2004, the year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and two decades after the soundtrack to "Purple Rain" went multi-platinum.

But what remained in Prince's hands is, by any estimate, less than the sum of ticket and album sales. In every record deal, a cut goes to the label, background performers and music publishers, though Prince published and wrote his own songs. Concert ticket revenue is split among the venue, the promoter, staff and the cost of travelling around. And prince was known to throw expensive parties.

Court battles in recent years suggest money wasn't free flowing.

In April 2013, Prince lost a suit filed in New York State's Supreme Court brought by perfume maker Revelations Perfume and Cosmetics Inc. for failing to promote the "3121" perfume line named after his album from 2006 and which he touted, but only once, in a massive concert that started July 7, 2007 near Macy's in downtown Minneapolis and ended at 5 a.m. at the First Avenue club, a famous venue from "Purple Rain."

He was ordered to pay $4.4 million; he never did. Instead, plaintiff lawyers went searching for assets, found about $3 million in various Minnesota bank accounts, and used court orders to freeze them, according to Brian Slipakoff, a New York lawyer who represented the perfume maker. Prince settled for a lower amount shortly after.

"It doesn't suggest there was oodles of cash lying around," Slipakoff said.

Prince encountered tax difficulties several times over the years, including owing back taxes to France in 2012, which he paid up, and overdue property taxes around $450,000 in 2010. In 2013, the IRS filed a federal tax lien against him in Carver County, Minnesota, Court for $1.6 million. What happened with that case is unclear.

Records on file with Carver County, where Paisley Park is located, show that he was up to date on his property taxes when he died.

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- AP


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