As of Tuesday, it appears that Prince may have died intestate, or without leaving a will. According to an article published in the New York Times, Prince's sister has filed an application for the probate process to begin, in which she notes that she is unaware of the existence of a testamentary document.
If this is the case, the ramifications for Prince's estate and his family could be enormous. They could include court supervision over an estate estimated at being worth hundreds of millions of dollars, potential claim disputes, and lengthy, protracted public proceedings. Further complications may arise from tax issues that may end up playing out in the probate process and under the watch of the public's eye.
It should be noted that even if a will is located, the matter will still require probate. In other words, just as we saw with Michael Jackson, even a will cannot avoid the public scrutiny, expense and delays associated with probating an estate. However, if it turns out that a trust was prepared or other proper estate planning was undertaken, which we certainly hope to be the case for Prince's family's sake, many of the issues presented with probating an estate are much more likely to be avoided.
The lesson here is that everyone, including celebrities and people who do not believe they need planning, should be proactive and have a conversation with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and probate law so that they can know or better understand their options in avoiding these pitfalls.
In the New York Times article we have cited, Kenneth J. Abdo, a Minnesota attorney, is quoted as making a simple but powerful statement: "It comes down to taking care of business. Either you take care of it, or your leaving a mess to the family or the courts."
Even assuming you did not write and sing the beloved lyrics of Purple Rain, we can all agree, as I imagine Prince would, we would never purposely choose to leave our families inheriting a mess to clean up. Because, as Prince says, "I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain. I only wanted to one time see you laughing. I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain."