NEW YORK (AFP) - A judge ruled on Friday (May 19) that Prince's six siblings are the heirs to his estate, a key step in the more than year-old battle over the pop legend's fortune and vast trove of unreleased songs.
Kevin Eide, the judge in Carver County, Minnesota, where Prince died suddenly in April 2016 at his Paisley Park estate, said that the Purple Rain star's heirs were his sister Tyka Nelson and five half-siblings.
"The heirs of the estate are determined to be Omarr Baker, Alfred Jackson, Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John R. Nelson and Tyka Nelson," the order read.
In practical terms, the ruling will not immediately hand over Prince's fortune - which is estimated to be worth up to US$300 million (S$416 million)- to his siblings.
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Instead, it starts a one-year process in which people who claim to be related to Prince can still make their appeals, but be definitively excluded if the judge does not accept their case.
"I'm finally my brother's legal sister again," Tyka Nelson, herself a singer but with much less success than Prince, wrote on Facebook. "It's a happy day!"
The ruling comes nine days after a hearing in which the siblings pressed for a resolution, and following months of sometimes colorful claims by people who say they are Prince's descendants.
Among the claims received by the court were one from a woman who said she had a secret wedding to Prince in Las Vegas, and a little-known musician who alleged that Prince agreed on a tour bus to hand him his whole estate.
NEW DISPUTE WITH LABEL
The judge's ruling could also provide more clarity on control of Prince's storied vault of unreleased songs, with question marks already rising over deals reached since Prince's death.
The judge separately scheduled a hearing for May 31 to hear a proposal to cancel a contract between Prince's estate and Universal, the world's largest music label conglomerate.
Universal in February announced with fanfare that it had secured the rights to Prince's catalog after the mid-1990s, when the artist exited rival label Warner, as well as unspecified recordings from Prince's earlier heyday.
But Comerica Bank and Trust, which has been assigned to handle the estate's interests, conceded that the recordings under Universal's US$30 million contract may overlap with Warner's assets.
"Universal has been misled and defrauded in connection with the license agreement and insists upon rescission of the agreement and the return of its money, full stop," a label executive was quoted as saying in a partially redacted filing.
Comerica asked the court to be let out of the contract, saying the estate otherwise faced the likelihood of litigation.
Complicating matters, only three of the heirs have been working with L. Londell McMillan, Prince's longtime lawyer who has advised the estate on deals.
Other siblings including Tyka have accused McMillan of mismanaging a tribute concert last year to Prince, charges that the lawyer denies.
Prince was a sworn foe of music industry conventions and in the mid-1990s wrote "slave" on his cheek and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol after Warner tried to put the brakes on his prodigious output.
Prince reconciled with Warner late in his life and the label will put out a new edition of his iconic 1984 album-soundtrack "Purple Rain," complete with previously unreleased tracks, to mark birthday next month.
The pop legend died from an accidental overdose of powerful painkillers.
The 57-year-old - outwardly a model of health who did not drink, advocated a vegetarian diet and fired musicians who abused drugs - left no will and had no living children who were recognised.