Judge says Prince case in 'uncharted waters'

US singer and musician Prince performing on stage at the Stade de France in 2011.
US singer and musician Prince performing on stage at the Stade de France in 2011.PHOTO: AFP

MINNEAPOLIS • A judge in the state of Minnesota decided on Monday to extend the process of determining who will be eligible to inherit Prince's estate by another two weeks.

First Judicial District Judge Kevin Eide said he was "in no rush to determine whether one particular person is an heir", but instead was focused on "whether certain classes or groups of heirs are legally excluded".

More than 21 lawyers are representing a dozen clients who claim to have a stake in Prince's estate.

Prince, whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson, died of an accidental overdose of the opioid painkiller fentanyl on April 21.

Attorney David Crosby, the court-appointed administrator of Prince's estate, said thousands of documents in four separate locations had been examined in search of a will, but none has been found.

At the heart of the inheritance issue are questions such as: Who was Prince's biological father and does it even matter when determining his heirs? Prince's paternal origin is being questioned by one petitioner, who claims that Prince's acknowledged father, Prince Rogers, is in fact not biologically related to the late singer.

Judge Eide, who ordered lawyers at the hearing not to identify their clients by name, must now decide whether that paternity claim should be examined through DNA testing.

Depending on how Judge Eide rules over the issue of paternity, potential heirs might be locked out of the inheritance.

Mr Ken Abdo, who represented three of Prince's half-siblings, urged quick action, arguing that the value of Prince's music could dissipate over time.

"Delay can damage this estate, that's the reality of this business," he said.

Prince's estate is worth an estimated net US$300 million (S$407 million). It includes the musician's sprawling Paisley Park compound in suburban Minneapolis, where a vault was reportedly found containing thousands of hours of unreleased music.

Prince's sister Tyka Nelson and five half-siblings stand to inherit his fortune and perhaps, more importantly, the rights to his music.

Mr Brian Dillon, an attorney representing Ms Nelson, also urged the court to move quickly.

"The more cats there are to be herded, the more expensive, the more delay... and quite frankly, the family needs some closure," he said.

Judge Eide said the matter was "a very unique case for the state of Minnesota. In many ways, we really are in uncharted waters here".

Whatever his ruling, he said he plans to immediately send his decision to an appeals court for review.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Judge says Prince case in 'uncharted waters''. Print Edition | Subscribe