Prince’s death on April 21, 2016, plunged millions of music fans into mourning. It also sent his potential heirs rushing to the courthouse, since the artist died intestate. Aside from his six siblings with the most direct claim to his inheritance, more than 100 other claimants emerged in the wake of his passing asserting that they were the pop icon’s true heirs.
It was a complicated beginning of a six-and-a-half-year long estate administration process that grew ever more complex as it unfolded. The trust company chosen by Prince’s siblings to serve as personal representative enlisted Fredrikson to handle the legal work involved in administering the estate. The core team members—Mark Greiner, who leads Fredrikson’s Trusts & Estates group, Karen Sandler Steinert and Joe Cassioppi—were facing one of the most complicated intestate estates in U.S. history and certainly the most complicated in Minnesota history.
The nature of the assets held by the estate posed the main challenge. They included several real estate properties in the U.S. and abroad as well as Prince’s music and publishing catalogues, both of which were subject to a number of rights disputes that required resolution and in many cases litigation. The litigation team was in court dozens of times. Lack of any clear order and organization of the assets made the task of asset valuation—and of developing the estate tax approach—daunting.
Fredrikson’s core team gradually expanded to bring in other firm attorneys focusing on specific issues of real estate, intellectual property and copyright. Over time, the team’s central role came to resemble that of a general counsel, presiding over a network of legal experts at home and abroad, managing a probate that involved many areas of law, enlisting specialized counsel when needed, all the while keeping an eye on the big picture of completing the estate administration to turn the assets over to the heirs.
The significance of this estate administration process survives beyond its conclusion in 2023, chiefly in the form of new developments in the law. Prince’s estate presented many legal issues of first impression in Minnesota and nationally. The emergence of entirely new legal problems demanded that the attorneys evaluate unanswered legal questions, and their efforts led to crucial legal opinions concerning the limits of heirship as well as to substantial developments in the area of law involving posthumous rights of publicity—a kind of enduring legacy even Prince might not have imagined.
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