Deals ensure cash keeps flowing to unsettled Prince estate

Art taken from the fence outside.
Fan art left on the fence outside of Paisley Park now decorates a wall on the inside of the building on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 in Chanhassen, Minn.
Evan Frost | MPR News

A year after Prince died of an accidental drug overdose, his Paisley Park studio complex and home is now a museum and concert venue. Fans can now stream most of his classic albums, and a remastered "Purple Rain" album is due out in June along with two albums of unreleased music and two concert films from his vault.

Prince left no known will and had no known children when he died last April 21, and the judge overseeing Prince's estate has yet to formally declare six of his siblings as its heirs. However, those running the estate have taken steps to preserve his musical legacy and keep the cash coming in. Here's a look at where things stand:

The music

The value of the music deals hasn't been disclosed, and key financial information in voluminous court filings is sealed.

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Universal Music Group was a big winner, reaching major deals that gave it the licensing rights to Prince's vault of unreleased music and his independently recorded albums, publishing rights and merchandising rights.

Under related deals, Prince's music is now available from major streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Amazon Music and iHeartRadio.

But a lawsuit remains pending against Jay Z's Roc Nation and the Tidal streaming service over alleged copyright violations. Tidal claims Prince gave it the exclusive right to stream his albums, including his Warner Bros. catalog. Estate lawyers say he gave Tidal limited rights to only one album, 2015's "Hit N Run: Phase 1."

Paisley Park

Paisley Park, which is run by the company that runs Elvis Presley's Graceland, opened for public tours in October. Visitors can see the studios and soundstage where Prince worked and pay their respects at the Paisley Park-shaped urn that holds his ashes. It also hosts dance parties and movie and video showings on Friday and Saturday nights.

Close to 100,000 people from around the world have taken the tour, even though winter was expected to be the slow season, said Joel Weinshanker, managing partner of PPark Management, who has a similar role with Graceland. He wouldn't release revenue figures.

Weinshanker said he expects several hundred thousand visitors in the first full year of operations, which he said would make it the No. 2 museum dedicated to an entertainer behind Graceland.

He said most of the money is going toward preserving the building, which he said was in "grave disrepair" when Prince died, and toward protecting its contents. He said the heating and cooling system had to be replaced, some rooms where videos were stored had recent water damage, and valuable custom-designed outfits were improperly stored on wire hangers.

From April 20-23, Paisley Park will mark the anniversary of Prince's death with Celebration 2017, which will include concerts and other programming. Acts scheduled to appear include The Revolution, Morris Day and the Time, New Power Generation, Liv Warfield and Shelby J., with members of 3RDEYEGIRL, the band Prince was nurturing when he died. Weinshanker said it will draw guests from 28 countries.

The probate case

Barring any surprises, six Prince siblings will get equal shares of his estate, which court filings have suggested is worth around $200 million. Federal and estate taxes are expected to consume nearly half of that.

Judge Kevin Eide wrote last month that he was "reasonably certain" he'll ultimately declare the heirs to be Prince's sister, Tyka Nelson, and his half-siblings Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John R. Nelson, Omarr Baker and Alfred Jackson.

After Prince died, more than 45 people filed claims purporting to be his wife, children, siblings or other relatives. They've all been rejected, but Eide has said he'll wait for some appeals to run their course before making a final ruling, which could take several months or more. The six presumptive heirs have asked him to speed things up. A hearing on that request is set for May 10.

The disputes

With so much money at stake, there's been some infighting. Court documents and testimony show that the siblings disagreed over who should control the estate, eventually settling on Comerica Bank & Trust as the executor.

The older half-siblings -- Norrine, Sharon, John and Alfred -- also wanted a co-executor, former Prince attorney L. Londell McMillan, who was a key figure in the deals for monetizing Prince's entertainment assets.

But Tyka and Omarr opposed McMillan, questioning his fitness to serve and accusing him of mismanaging a family tribute concert last October. They wanted CNN commentator Van Jones, who advised Prince on philanthropy. Citing the siblings' inability to agree, the judge put Comerica in sole control.

McMillan continues to advise Norrine, Sharon and John, though a recent filing indicates Jackson has broken with him. Lawyers for Omarr and Tyka have subpoenaed a potentially huge volume of documents from McMillan. The judge will consider a motion to quash that subpoena at the May 10 hearing.

Sharon, meanwhile, claimed last month that Comerica was being "dictatorial and bullish." Comerica denied any disrespectful, abusive or hostile conduct, but said the heirs don't get to vote on how it runs the estate.