Judge Says Prince's Estate Doesn't Need Personal Adviser, Confirms Comerica as Permanent Administrator

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Prince photographed in Toronto in 1996.

Following a hearing last week to determine who will represent Prince's multimillion-dollar estate, a suburban Minneapolis judge has appointed Comerica Bank & Trust N.A. to act as corporate permanent administrator. He also ruled that neither veteran entertainment lawyer L. Londell McMillan nor nonprofit organizer and CNN commentator Anthony “Van” Jones will be serving as co-personal representative for the estate. Judge Kevin Eide of the Carver County District Court, who is overseeing the estate's probate proceedings, rejected petitions on behalf of both former Prince associates, saying that an individual representative would not be necessary for the successful administration of the late superstar's assets.

The estate's six likely heirs were unanimous in their support for Comerica, which will step in on Feb. 1 for Bremer Trust. Bremer has served as the estate’s temporary special administrator since shortly after the artist’s death last April -- and in June appointed McMillan and industry veteran Charles Koppelman as special entertainment advisers to the estate, an appointment Comerica can change -- but chose not to stay on as the estate’s permanent representative. The heirs also agreed that an individual representative was needed as a go-between between themselves and the bank, citing communication difficulties with Bremer over the course of the past nine months.

But the prospective heirs were sharply divided over who that co-personal representative should be. Jones, who had the support of Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, and his half-brother, Omarr Baker, advised the musician on his philanthropic efforts and assisted with a 2014 Warner Bros. deal that allowed Prince to obtain some control of his catalog with the label. McMillan, who was backed by Prince’s four step-siblings, helped extricate the musician from his initial Warner Bros. deal in the ‘90s, and with Koppelman has negotiated a number of deals for Prince’s music on behalf of the estate in recent months, including publishing, licensing, performing rights and a new arrangement with Warner Bros. to issue unreleased material. A comprehensive deal with major streaming services is also expected to be announced in the coming weeks. 

Each camp of potential heirs had fiercely opposed the other’s candidate. Sharon, Norrine and John Nelson were concerned that Jones is currently serving as one of the attorneys for Baker and Tyka Nelson, and also that he lacks what they refer to in court documents as  “experience negotiating or administering music contracts.” Attorneys for Nelson and Baker not only question McMillan’s “current contractual and personal relationship” with their step-siblings, according to court filings, but with the fact that "We've had a lack of disclosure from Mr. McMillan about his ongoing financial interest in the estate's music deals," Baker’s attorney Steven H. Silton told the court.

Judge Eide expressed confidence that Comerica could communicate effectively with the potential heirs, since the new bank would not have to deal with the “mayhem” and “disarray” Bremer had experienced immediately after Prince's death.

The judge said that while he approved much of the work McMillan and Koppelman have done as special advisers appointed to assist Bremer, the former has been a “lightning rod” for disagreements, and the compensation he's received as part of the agreements he's negotiated may create a conflict of interest. 

The judge also had reservations about Jones' impartiality. In addition to Jones' position as Omarr Baker's attorney, the judge was concerned with attorney's business and personal connections with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, the activist generally credited with regaining Prince's masters.  Ellis-Lamkins has filed a petition with the court asking for information and indemnification for actions of the estate after May 2, 2016, a matter that the court will take up at a Feb. 8 hearing.

The judge said he would not appoint a co-personal representative who did not have the heirs’ unanimous support. “The heirs are all strong advocates of their positions on how the estate should be managed, and adding another divisive element will cause additional expense and delay in these proceedings,” he wrote.

Prince died April 21 last year of an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. Because he apparently left no will, Judge Eide and Bremer spent much of 2016 fielding numerous claims from people insisting they were related to Prince, few of whom presented a strong enough case to even warrant genetic testing. At a recent hearing, the judge said the estate would likely be dived between the six people listed on the initial filing with the court: sister Tyka Nelson and half-siblings Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John Nelson, Omarr Baker, and Alfred Jackson.

When Bremer’s initial appointment ended in November, the bank told Judge Eide it did not wish to stay on as the estate’s permanent representative, though it agreed to an extended temporary appointment while a successor was chosen. 

Prince’s lack of estate planning could mean that state and federal taxes will claim nearly half of the estate. Bremer had previously told the court that it had already prepared preliminary filings related to the estate tax, due January 21, including a partial payment and a request for an extension. In addition to approving Comerica, the judge extended Bremer's temporary appointment until the end of January. 

In the weeks leading up to the tax deadline, Koppelman and McMillan have helped Bremer license many of Prince’s assets in order to generate the cash needed to pay the tax bill. The estate reached an agreement with Warner Bros. in October, which made possible the greatest hits package Prince 4Ever and the deluxe Purple Rain reissue slated for this year, and entered into a deal in November making Universal Music Publishing Group the exclusive publishing administrator for Prince’s catalog.

Similarly, sources tell Billboard that a possible deal with streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music is expected to close in time for this year’s Grammy Awards And the estate also recently announced a global licensing deal for merchandise and branding with Bravado, which is also part of the Universal Music Group, and just this morning, Irving Azoff's performing-rights organization Global Rights Management announced that it has signed a deal with Bremer to represent Prince's entire catalog globally.