Prince's wealth likely to remain a mystery in death

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The scene outside Paisley Park
Media and fans line the street outside Prince's Paisley Park on Thursday after it was announced that he had died. The Chanhassen, Minn., complex is just part of Prince's fortune, which has been estimated to be worth between $250 million and $300 million.
Jim Mone | AP

Prince crafted a flamboyant persona through his music. Off stage, however, he was private and reclusive. That air of mystery and privacy extended to his business activities.

Prince was certainly rich by most people's standards, but it's unlikely the extent of his wealth will be fully known, nor who'll get it now that he's gone.

Media reports often peg Prince's worth at $250 million to $300 million without providing any source for the estimate. How much Prince is truly worth is hard to figure out, given how his finances are shielded from public scrutiny. And it's difficult to estimate the future value of Prince's music, song-writing, image and brand.

"I would say it would be impossible to pinpoint it," said Minneapolis entertainment lawyer Ken Abdo.

The pop music legend was not rich enough to get on any of Forbes magazine's recent lists of the rich. His only appearance on Forbes Celebrity 100 list was in 2005, when he banked an estimated $49.7 million before taxes and fees.

Lawyers expect he arranged that ownership of assets, such as Paisley Park and his published and unpublished song catalog, were not in his name or at least not in his name only.

Prince probably created an estate plan to keep his finances private, avoiding the revelation of assets and their distribution that can occur with a simple will, legal experts say.

"How likely is it that something filed will disclose the value of his estate? That's very unlikely," said Susan Link, a trust and estate attorney with the Minneapolis firm Maslon LLP.

There are many ways Prince's wealth could be discretely distributed, she added.

"To keep things private, you'd make sure that it's titled in trust or things like life insurance," Link said. "If you name a beneficiary on it, it goes to the beneficiary and nobody ever knows who that is."

The rich typically hire lawyers who protect their clients' wealth and privacy.

Once you get into the rarefied atmosphere of celebrity and high net wealth, it's safe to say there's one or more trusts involved, some charitable bequests and foundations that were made, and it's awfully safe to say that none of that's going to see the light of day," said Craig Goldman, an estate planning attorney who teaches at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Unless, perhaps, Prince wanted certain charitable donations made public.

There's also the potential for beneficiaries, or people who expected to be beneficiaries, to contest the distribution of assets, said University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Benjamin Carpenter. That could make trust and related agreements part of the public court during a legal fight.

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