Like most Americans, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Prince. I liked Prince in middle school and high school, but in college his music became the soundtrack to my life. Unfortunately for all of us, collectively mourning musicians has become all too commonplace in the last year. And at first, I was simply one of those fans who couldn't imagine a world without Prince in it.
Initial reports made note of Prince's conflict with and criticism of the music industry and his role as a champion of artistic freedom. Notably, when fans went to Spotify to celebrate Prince's life by listening to his music, they were unable to find it. That is because in recent years, Prince gained control of his music rights, which allowed him to remove his work from digital streaming services. This was a man who understood the value of control!
As the stories developed in the wake of Prince's death, I was so happy to hear that, in addition to being a musical genius, Prince was a philanthropist. According to reports, he supported civil rights causes, education and even made anonymous gifts to strangers who were in need. The fact that he did not boast about his good deeds, made me like him even more.
But then the story took the worst possible turn for this estate planning attorney. The news came out last week -- Prince had no will! In response to a petition filed by Prince's sister, a Carver County judge appointed Bremer Trust as a special administrator for Prince's estate. This was an emergency response so that there is someone legally responsible to manage Prince's assets and business.
How could a man who fought so hard to re-gain control over his musical legacy not have created a plan for it after he died? How could a man with a philanthropic heart not have cemented his charitable legacy with testamentary gifts? Et tu, Prince?
Still in disbelief that Prince was without an estate plan, I started dreaming up other hypotheticals that would make sense for the man who was so mysterious to all. How amazing would it be if he had established a foundation that was not directly connected to himself to continue his legacy as he did when he was alive, anonymously? Or what if his funds were funneled through a corporation, which left nothing in his individual name? A testament that the artist was true to his creative genius and cared less about the fortune it provided him.
Believe me, I understand that estate planning requires us to acknowledge our mortality and that can be difficult, if not impossible, for some. I understand that we are all busy and estate planning often falls to the bottom of the to-do list. But I can't help thinking that when Prince failed to write his wishes down, he irrevocably lost the ability to make a game-changing difference in organizations that he held so dear during his lifetime. And this would have made him immortal.
Alexandra Smyser is an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer in Pasadena, CA. She handles all areas of Estate Planning including trusts, wills, probates, general and limited conservatorships, and special needs trusts. For more information on estate planning contact Ms. Smyser at (626) 683-8113 or visit www.pasadenalawoffice.com.