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Failing to plan: Confusion, division and other consequences

Close to 15 months after the untimely death of Prince in April of 2016, the seemingly never-ending battle over his estate continues. The ongoing saga has already chalked up countless court filings, two executors, and six heirs entrenched in bitter disputes featuring changing allegiances.

The latest volley saw lawyers for Universal Music Group renewing a request for a Minnesota judge to cancel the company’s rights deal with the artist’s estate. Should the jurist deny their request, UMG’s legal counsel will be forced to pursue litigation, prolonging the process and denying fans the chance to hear previously unheard music from Prince’s vaults.

Comerica Bank & Trust, the executor of Prince’s estate, asked a judge to rescind the January agreement with Universal after Warner Bros. Records claimed the agreement conflicted with a previous contract signed with Prince in 2014.

The primary issue involves Bremer Trust, the former executor who negotiated the UMG agreement, and accusations that they allegedly misrepresented the rights Universal would receive. UMG claims that it would not have proceeded in securing the rights had they been aware that Warner Bros. would threaten to sue over a portion of the right that they retained.

After Universal’s attorneys reviewed Prince’s confidential agreement with Warner Bros, they immediately pursued cancellation of the deal. They claimed that the language was ambiguous enough that neither they nor the courts could determine whether the two contracts are in conflict without going to trial.

Prince’s heirs are characteristically taking opposing sides in the dispute. Omarr Baker has joined Comerica to void the UMG deal while Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson and Alfred Jackson believe that no rights overlap exists between the two record companies. The split represents the first time that Jackson and Tyka Nelson, Prince’s sister and the sixth heir, have split with Baker in disputes involving the estate.

In June, the judge overseeing the case ruled that Prince left no will for an estate worth around $200 million. The lack of estate planning by the native Minnesota music icon will likely cut that amount in half after taxes.

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