Prince heirs disagree on advice, other matters in star's estate

Prince at First Avenue in Minneapolis, undated.
Prince at First Avenue in Minneapolis, undated.
Courtesy of Daniel Corrigan

Updated: 3:55 p.m. | Posted: 1:17 p.m.

The complicated legal maneuvering surrounding Prince's estate entered a new phase in Carver County court. A hearing Thursday also revealed signs of strain among his siblings and heirs.

Minnesota-based Bremer Trust prepared to hand over permanent management of the estate to Comerica, a Dallas-based financial services firm. That's expected to happen at the end of this month. It appeared that Prince died last April without a will, and Bremer officials say an exhaustive search hasn't turned one up.

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But Prince's sister Tyka Nelson and half siblings Sharon, Norinne and John Nelson, Omarr Baker and Alfred Jackson are split on who they want in addition to Comerica to represent their interests in the estate going forward. Some want longtime Prince attorney L. Londell McMillan. Tyka Nelson and Baker want attorney, CNN commentator and Prince friend Van Jones.

"In the past nine months, we as heirs have missed a great deal of information that has not filtered down to us," said Sharon Nelson, in court testimony. She testified she wanted McMillan to act as a personal representative. "He was Prince's friend and business manager ... I need someone knowledgeable about both sides, the corporate and the music industry. Londell McMillan knows both sides ... He knows exactly what would happen. We would not have to go through Prince 101."

She said McMillan currently served as her business adviser, and that most of the heirs support McMillan. "We have four votes on our side of our family," she said.

McMillan took the stand and said he'd worked with Prince as early as 1993, and helped him win release from his Warner Bros. music contract. "I was his go-to guy. The one that he trusted," McMillan said. "I started handling his negotiations for pretty much everything and anything." He said Prince even paid him to set up his own law firm.

Rival attorney Van Jones talked about his own youth in Tennessee, going to law school at Yale, his legal career in Oakland and the non-profit youth jobs program he founded and his work in the Obama administration.

He testified in court about getting an initial contribution for his program in 2007 from an anonymous donor that turned out to be Prince. Jones said he initially declined, but later became the music superstar's friend. "He would just call and check on me, give me assignments on the social side," Jones said. "He had a genius for people, for human beings."

Jones also took credit for negotiating the deal that had Prince re-sign with record label Warner Bros. in 2014, and said Prince helped him found Yes We Code, a non-profit intended to help improve access of minority youth with the tech industry. Jones said he ran Prince's philanthropic efforts for more than 8 years.

"I think I'm qualified to work on Prince's estate because I understand the secret sauce," Jones said, which he explained as artistic independence and interest in social causes.

The judge didn't rule immediately on which attorney would represent the family -- or if either would.

Lawyers for some of the family and Bremer also jousted in court before Carver County District Court Judge Kevin Eide over whether Bremer Trust had correctly accounted for the value of Prince's estate in an inventory submitted to the court earlier this month. That accounting listed the "total property on hand for distribution" as worth $22.2 million, although a Bremer vice president noted that the valuation of the estate is ongoing and doesn't list ongoing or expected revenue streams.

In one surprise revelation, an attorney said there had been a $7 million "guarantee" for the "Prince tribute," apparently a reference to the tribute concert for Prince held at the Xcel Energy Center in October.

The judge also said he wasn't prepared to make a final declaration of who will inherit Prince's estate, although he did say that for the time being only Prince's known siblings will be treated as eligible.

"I believe all other applicants for heirs have been legally excluded as heirs, or will shortly be excluded," Eide said, noting that some of the cases are still pending in the state Court of Appeals.