Some would-be Prince heirs urge judge to let DNA test decide claims

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Prince performs in Miami
A judge will hear arguments about the proposed protocol that will be used to determine who may be related to Prince.
Jed Jacobsohn | Getty Images 2007

Updated: 3:40 p.m. | Posted: 6:32 a.m.

Attorneys for Prince's estate and some of his potential heirs sparred in court Monday over how to decide who is related to the music legend.

The trust handling Prince's affairs told the judge that it's too late under Minnesota law for some of Prince's potential heirs to make a claim on his estate. That could stop some of those possible heirs from undergoing DNA testing to see if they were related to Prince.

More than a dozen attorneys for potential heirs were in court. A handful of them told Carver County District Court Judge Kevin Eide that the law should not be interpreted to exclude them before they have a chance to get tested.

"We're here for the truth, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what it bears," said Frank Wheaton, an attorney for Alfred Jackson, a maternal half-brother of Prince. "Because Alfred Jackson is certainly part of that rooted tree from which Prince, his mother and father come, and Alfred will be there. At the beginning, during the middle, and at the end."

The judge told attorneys that the Prince case may be unique in Minnesota and suggested he may ask the state's Court of Appeals to consider the matter before making any decisions about heirs in the case.

"In some sense, we're in uncharted waters here," Eide said.

Others cautioned that a delay could diminish the value of Prince's estate — what one attorney called a "national treasure." They asked the judge to proceed based on what the courts already know about Prince and his family.

Eide said he'd proceed as quickly as possible, but didn't offer any timeline for a decision.

All told, court records indicate 29 people have claimed to have some familial relationship to Prince, although some haven't offered any credible evidence.

One woman from Wisconsin claims she and Prince are both children of the late actor Paul Newman.

There was also some discussion about a prisoner in Colorado, Carlin Williams, who claims to be the unacknowledged son of Prince. There are reports that genetic testing shows he isn't, but his attorney was in court Monday, arguing about the process for determining heirs.

Eide appointed Bremer Trust to handle Prince's affairs in April, after he died apparently without leaving a will.

Bremer representatives say they've opened thousands of boxes at several locations and didn't find a will. They said that process is coming to an end, and there's no indication a will exists.

Bremer has proposed a process to establish heirs. It includes a series of questions and allows Bremer to require people claiming to be heirs to undergo genetic testing.

The judge is still taking written arguments into July. If it goes to the Court of Appeals, this could take months to sort out.

But there was some concern, from the lawyer for Prince's sister Tyka Nelson, that Prince's fame and legacy are a perishable commodity here, and that the longer they wait to sort this out, the less it will be worth.

Bremer is also only assigned to oversee Prince's estate through October, and the judge says he understands the urgency to make some final decisions here.

MPR News intern Amanda Furru contributed to this report.

Correction (June 27, 2016): A headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly said the judge told would-be Prince heirs it was too late to make a claim.

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