How to Prove You're Related to Prince and How His Estate May Be Sliced Up

Prince, 1985
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Prince performs live at the Fabulous Forum on Feb 19, 1985 in Inglewood, Calif.

When an estate as valuable as Prince’s is at stake, one can’t be too careful in weeding out spurious fortune-seekers claiming to be blood relatives, entitled to a slice of the pie.

Bremer Trust, the court-appointed special administrator of Prince's multi-million-dollar estate, asked a Minnesota state court Thursday (June 2) to approve a set of procedures for determining the validity of claims from purported heirs.

If Carver County Judge Kevin W. Eide approves the proposed protocols, anyone claiming a blood relation to Prince will be required to complete a rigorous questionnaire under oath and submit to DNA testing if the claim isn’t established by sufficient documentation -- all under fairly tight deadlines.

Bremer Trust stepped into its role as special administrator for the estate on April 27, six days after Prince’s death, at the request of his sister, Tyka Nelson, who told the court her brother had died without a will. 

On May 6, Judge Eide authorized the medical examiner to release a sample of Prince’s blood to Bremer for genetic testing. Two weeks later, the judge stated that anyone claiming to be an heir to Prince’s estate must submit a statement explaining why they believe that to be the case, and instructing Bremer to develop a plan for DNA testing.

How to prove you’re related to Prince

Under Bremer Trust’s proposed procedures, purported heirs who have already filed claims must respond to a detailed questionnaire, under oath, by June 10. Anyone who makes a future claim has a week after filing to respond.

The questionnaire lists 16 questions that inquires into the details of marital history (or lack thereof) for the purported heir’s parents, asking whether the father acknowledged the claimant as his child and whether a court required him to pay child support, and requiring the submission of all pertinent birth certificates and marriage and divorce records.

Within three days of receiving the completed questionnaire, Bremer will issue one of the following decisions:

• A family relationship with Prince has been established through evidence. No DNA testing is required.
• Evidence of a family relationship with Prince exists, but DNA testing is needed to confirm the claim.
• Insufficient evidence of a family relationship to Prince has been presented, and the claim is rejected without conducting DNA testing.
• More information is required to assess the claim.
• The claimant has not sufficiently complied with the administrator’s request or cooperated with the evaluation.
• Anyone who disagrees with Bremer Trust’s assessment must file an objection with the court within three days or by June 20, whichever is later.

All genetic testing will be conducted by DNA Diagnostics Center. Bremer Trust will provide each purported heir with his or her results within three days of the test’s completion, and will also enter the results as evidence with the court whenever necessary.

Four potential heirs have stepped forward

On her initial filing, Tyka Nelson identified herself and six half-siblings as heirs. Despite early news reports that hundreds of people have claimed to be related to Prince, only four people who claim to be heirs, and who were not listed by Nelson, have corresponded with the court to date. 

Carlin Q. Williams, a 39-year-old inmate in a federal prison in Colorado, filed a claim stating that he is Prince’s son on May 9. Williams’ mother, Marsha Henson, submitted an affidavit in support of her son’s claim, saying she had sex with Prince in July 1976 at a hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. Prince would have been 18 years old at the time, and not yet a star. Williams stated that she knew Prince was her son’s father because she didn’t have sex with anyone else around that time, or until after her son’s birth in April 1977.  

Later that month, Brianna and Victoria Nelson stepped forward claiming to be the heirs of the late Duane Nelson Sr., identified in their filings as the son of Prince’s father, John L. Nelson. Throughout his life, Duane Nelson Sr. publicly referred to himself as Prince’s half-brother, and multiple press reports, including his 2011 obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, did likewise.

After Prince’s death, however, his sister, Tyka Nelson, did not list Duane Nelson Sr. among Prince’s known heirs in her initial submission to the court. In support of their claims, Brianna and Victoria Nelson submitted their father’s Minnesota birth certificate, which lists John L. Nelson as his father.

According to the court filings, Duane Nelson Sr. had two children: Brianna Nelson, and Duane Joseph Nelson Jr., who died in 2009. The motion says that Brianna is Prince’s niece. Victoria, a minor, is the daughter of Duane Nelson Jr. and Jeannine Halloran, according to the filings. She is Prince’s grand-niece, the motion says.

Another woman, Darcell Gresham Johnston, has claimed to be the daughter of Prince’s mother, Mattie Shaw, and therefore his half-sister, and has filed an obje to Bremer Trust’s initial demand for DNA testing.

How the estate could be divided

Under Minnesota law, because Prince died without a will, and because his parents are deceased and he has no spouse, his estate would first pass to any surviving child. If Williams can prove that he is Prince’s son, then, he would inherit the full estate. If Williams’ claim fails (and no one else is established as Prince’s child), the estate would be divided among the singer’s full and half-siblings -- including Johnston, if she proves her relationship.

Minnesota law also states that when a sibling who would have been entitled to inherit a portion of an estate is deceased, his or her heirs are entitled to inherit that portion themselves. If the court finds that Duane Nelson Sr. is John L. Nelson’s son, that Brianna is Duane’s daughter, and that Victoria is Duane’s granddaughter, then Brianna and Victoria would split Duane’s share of the estate.

Although Judge Eide will certainly have a few tricky matters to clear up, with the assistance of the special administrator, the settlement of Prince’s estate might be relatively straightforward compared to the legal battles over other superstars’ estates.

For instance, music legend James Brown died in 2006 and, due to disputes over family relationships, his estate remains unsettled to this day. Because questions were raised about whether Brown was legally married to the woman claiming to be his widow, Tommie Rae Hynie, and whether he was the father of her son James Brown II, the case dragged on for years.