Celebrity Estates: Prince’s Royal(ty) Issue

2016 is seeing it’s share of celebrities pass away: Glenn Frey, Abe Vigoda and Garry Shandling. But none so far, aside from perhap David Bowie, left as much of an impact on our world as Prince.  And none, I would dare to say, has such a complicated estate.

Prince faces several tricky issue upon his passing: The nature of his property, and the absence of a nature heir.

Considering the shear amount of wealth Prince’s estate will create, starting with the millions of dollars it made from ITunes downloads mere hours after he died, Prince needed to carefully about who would receive his music royalty rights. Copyrighting music ensures several financial rights, such as charging a station or organization for playing it to the public for profit, licensing its use by another performers during a performance, or allowing another performer to sample a portion of it. This includes all sales and sampling from ITunes to YouTube to Pandora. That’s a lot of sources of future money.

Starting in 1978, Music copyrights last for 70 years after the death of its author, and Prince’s work on the original Batman movie (for those who remember his single “Batdance”…anyone?) and any music prior to 1978 lasts 95 years after its release. In other words, Prince’s estate could make money longer than he may have actually lived.

Due to the large number of sources an artist’s estate can collect from and the significant amount of time it can collect it, Prince’s estate can earn a fantastic amount of money. Elvis Presley’s estate earned $55 million in 2015. As a reminder, Elvis died almost 40 years ago, and he is still earning more money than most living celebrities. That’s an incredible amount of royalty rights to leave to a beneficiary.

Here is the real kicker: Prince’s only child, Boy Gregory Nelson, passed away soon after birth, and Prince was getting divorced from his last wife in 2006. Because Prince was unmarried and had no children, Prince’s closet heirs are his parents (both deceased) and his sister.

I just read that Prince died without a will. Of course, it was his sister who said this (and guess who is entitled to his estate if no post-mortem documents can be found…). I can guarantee you that there shall be some type of dispute over this absence of documentation: Prince was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, and to imagine he died without a will, trust, or some other type of legal document just seems unbelievable.

It appears that Prince’s royalty problem may be come a royal problem in the near future…



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