Several Prince heirs are seeking a new administrator of the artist's massive estate, claiming mismanagement has cost them millions of dollars.
Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson and John Nelson, three of Prince's five half-siblings, filed a petition last week asking Carver County District Judge Kevin Eide to permanently remove Comerica Bank & Trust as the personal representative of Prince's estate. Eide appointed Comerica in February.
The estate has been estimated at between $100 million and $300 million before taxes. In addition to the Nelsons, Prince's sister, Tyka Nelson, and half-siblings Omarr Baker and Alfred Jackson, have been declared the only heirs.
Eide ruled last week that Comerica will continue to administer the estate while he considers the petition. To suspend the firm's duties would jeopardize at least five major entertainment deals currently in negotiations, he wrote in a ruling. In a letter to the judge, Comerica said the concerns of three heirs shouldn't prevent them from managing the estate for the benefit of all.
Sam Johnson, one of the attorneys representing the petitioners, said Monday that "despite the concerns that Comerica may have given favorable treatment to certain heirs, the petitioners hope that all the heirs will join in this petition to protect the interests of the estate."
Attorneys for Tyka Nelson, Baker and Jackson couldn't be reached for comment.
The petitioners argue in a 21-page memorandum that state law allows for the removal of Comerica because the company has intentionally misrepresented its competence to manage the estate and failed to protect valuable assets. Comerica failed to archive and preserve unreleased music and video recordings held in Prince's vault at Paisley Park studio in Chanhassen, a move that has cost the family $2 million, the petition said.
"The [music and video recordings] represent potentially the largest value in the estate other than Prince's released music and publishing," the petition said. "These are unique, one-of-a-kind assets whose value lies, in part, in the mystique that such a trove of unreleased Prince material generates."
In a statement issued Monday, Comerica expressed disappointment over what it called an inaccurate and inflammatory petition.
"Comerica has worked diligently to bring order to the estate in a manner that honors and preserves Prince's legacy and will allow his many fans to enjoy his music for years to come," the firm said. "Comerica stands behind its team and their administration of the estate and will respond appropriately to the court. Comerica looks forward to the continued successful administration of the Prince estate."
Prince was found dead April 21, 2016, at his Paisley Park estate of an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. No will has been found, so Minnesota probate law determines his heirs.
The petitioners said Comerica's representatives have been hostile, dismissive and even physically confrontational with Sharon Nelson. Comerica indicated to the heirs that it could take up to 14 years to close the estate.
The petitioners say that Comerica's most glaring failure was its unauthorized decision to transfer recordings from the vault at Paisley Park to a facility in Los Angeles.
Comerica didn't tell the petitioners, who learned of the move long afterward from another sibling.
The recordings could have remained in Minnesota to control access and not expose the material to devaluation because of leaks, the petition said. The heirs asked Eide for a temporary restraining order to prevent the removal of anything else from Paisley Park.
The disregard in protecting the vault records is "just the tip of the iceberg," the petitioners wrote.
They complained that Comerica lacks entertainment and music expertise, and won't permit others who had worked with Prince — such as entertainment attorney L. Londell McMillan — to work as advisers.
The petitioners claim that Comerica has spent millions of dollars and authorized excessive amounts on consulting and legal fees, and had to rescind an estimated $30 million contract with Universal Music Group for the exclusive licensing and distribution of certain Prince music.
Although Comerica has been the estate's personal representative for 10 months, it hasn't managed and administered the distribution of more than 21 albums, recorded and previously released by Prince that are widely unavailable to the public, the petition said.
"This is a colossal failure and evidences a waste of millions in potential dollars to the estate," the petition said.
The petition also raised an issue with Comerica's hiring of Troy Carter as an entertainment adviser. Carter is an executive with Spotify, one of the world's leading music-streaming services. The petition says that's a conflict of interest because Spotify continues to stream Prince's music and "almost certainly has interest in securing additional rights."
Comerica has made decisions on the content of Prince's autobiography, documentary, artwork, photographs and other creative matters without consulting the heirs, the petition said, concluding that the company has become a divisive wedge among them.
"Eide has noted that the unique and extraordinary nature of this probate is undeniable," the petition said. "It would be an egregious mistake to permit Comerica to remain as personal representative for any additional amount of time, let alone for many years to come."