One by one, five of Prince’s six surviving siblings entered a Carver County courtroom Monday to register their claim to the late music legend’s estimated $100 million-plus estate and set up a special administrator to ensure that it’s handled properly.
Lawyers representing the family members said the heirs were acting in concert. Only after the paperwork began hitting the court files did the public learn of the possibility of another heir — a 45-year-old suburban Chicago woman who claims to be a half sibling.
District Judge Kevin Eide appointed Bremer Trust to oversee the estate during a 10-minute hearing, noting that none of the apparent heirs objected.
“We’re not used to this much notoriety in Carver County,” Eide said to a courtroom packed with reporters, lawyers and Prince’s family members.
“We appreciate you being here today. We hope that you’ll stick around for the Ryder Cup in September,” Eide added, referring to the biennial golf tournament between teams from Europe and the U.S. at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska this fall.
Prince died April 21 at age 57. Authorities have said that his body was found in an elevator and that he was alone when he died. They also said that neither foul play nor suicide is suspected.
Sources with direct knowledge of the case have told the Star Tribune that they are investigating whether the musician overdosed on opioids, causing his death. Prescription pills were found at Paisley Park, but sources have said it is not clear whether they were prescribed to Prince. Investigators are trying to determine how Prince got the pills and who may have provided them.
Carver County Sheriff’s chief deputy Jason Kamerud said Monday that he had no additional information to release in the investigation. Autopsy results are expected in a few weeks.
Monday’s probate hearing stemmed from a request last week by Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, to have a special administrator appointed to manage his estate, noting that no will has been found.
Initial probate documents listed the apparent heirs as Tyka Nelson and Prince’s half siblings John Nelson, Norrine Nelson, Sharon Nelson, Alfred Jackson, Omarr Baker and the late Lorna Nelson.
With the exception of John Nelson, all the surviving heirs were present in court Monday and consented to the appointment of Bremer Trust as special administrator, said its attorney Natasha Robertson. It’s unclear whether John Nelson also has consented.
Search for will continues
Eide said that no will had been found as of Monday morning, though Robertson said the search for one is ongoing. Without a will, Minnesota law governs how the money will be split.
“None of us has a crystal ball. None of us knows what claims will be made,” Eide said. “But we’ll address those issues as they come.”
After the hearing, Frank Wheaton, an Indianapolis attorney representing Jackson, said the heirs were “all on the same page.”
“It’s early yet. The game has just started,” he said. “In these kinds of cases, especially dealing with large estates, it’s typical for there to be fruitless claims throughout.”
One new claim was revealed in Monday’s court filings.
Darcell Gresham Johnston of Lombard, Ill., appeared at the hearing through Minneapolis attorney Cameron Parkhurst. Sources familiar with Johnston’s claim said later Monday that Johnston asserts that she has the same mother as Prince, but a different father, making her a half sister. Court records show she filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and liquidated more than $300,000 in debt.
Neither Parkhurst nor Bremer Trust’s attorney responded to requests for comment Monday.
When asked what connection Johnston had to the Prince estate, a court spokesman pointed to a court order stating that the purported heirs had requested that information they filed on “Confidential Information Forms” be disclosed only to court staff.
A woman who answered Johnston’s phone Monday afternoon said she was busy and did not want to comment.
Johnston’s is the second claim outside of known family members.
Last Wednesday, Rodney Herachio Dixon of Murrieta, Calif., filed notice that he claims all rights to Prince’s intellectual property because of what he called a $1 billion “implied agreement” relating to music in the late musician’s catalog. Bremer Trust quickly moved to dismiss the claim, calling it “frivolous.” Eide dismissed Dixon’s claim Monday.
Several dozen reporters, photographers, videographers and sketch artists rolled into Chaska for the 8:30 a.m. hearing, arriving in the dark to set up satellite feeds outside the courthouse and wait in line for a seat.
Sheriff’s deputies warned that no recordings would be tolerated in the courtroom and any violators would lose their equipment.
Eide told the crowd that he’s open to future motions to allow cameras in the courtroom, noting that he would consider the concerns of family members in rendering a decision. Requests to photograph Monday’s hearing were denied because not all family members could be given sufficient notice.
The disjointed group of siblings and half siblings gathered in somber rows at the front of the courtroom, speaking only in whispers. They left in small groups, huddled inside walls of bodyguards and Carver County sheriff’s deputies, who snapped at the media swarm to back off and clear a path so family members could get to waiting limousines.
Van Jones, a CNN commentator and family friend who once worked as an environmental adviser to the Obama administration, hovered outside the courtroom as Prince’s half brother Baker and his wife prepared to exit. The couple didn’t have bodyguards, Jones told the deputy guarding the door, and he wanted to make sure they’d be safe.
“They’re just not used to all this stuff,” Jones said.
Amid the hubbub outside the courthouse, Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson approached Jones.
“I just want to say I am awfully sorry,” Olson said.