Prince's estate: Lawyers tally late star's assets, debts behind closed doors

Prince's Heirs Have A Long Road Ahead

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -; Prince left behind no known will when he died April 21, and the work of settling his multimillion-dollar estate is being carried out behind closed doors by tight-lipped lawyers.

Estate attorneys unconnected to the case say they have a pretty good idea what's happening, starting with a careful accounting of the megastar's assets, debts and whether any unknown heirs exist.

Some questions and answers about untangling the estate of an artist who industry experts say will continue earning millions after his death:

What's happening?

In the days since Bremer Trust was named special administrator of the estate, the company likely has been tallying up the assets Prince left behind -; financial accounts, real estate, recording catalog and the unreleased recordings in his vault at Paisley Park. It will also tackle the complicated job of trying to put a value on them. The company has been working to verify who Prince's heirs are and determine what creditors are owed. And it's still trying to dig up any will, trust documents or estate plan.

Who are the heirs?

Assuming there is no will or trust -; and several experts say it's too early to be sure there isn't -; Minnesota law is clear on who inherits Prince's estate: his sister Tyka Nelson and his half-siblings. That is, unless it turns out he has an unknown child. Nelson's initial filing identified five surviving half-siblings, but another person, Illinois resident Darcell Gresham Johnston, is claiming to be a half-sister. Court papers identify Johnston only as "an interested party and beneficiary in this matter." When asked by the Associated Press whether she's a half-sister of Prince, she replied, "Yes, but no comment." She wouldn't say who her parents were. The judge authorized genetic testing Friday on a Prince blood sample kept by the medical examiner "recognizing that parentage issues might arise."

PHOTOS: Prince through the years

Prince through the years
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Prince's estate: Lawyers tally late star's assets, debts behind closed doors
Singer Prince performs in a surprise appearance on the "American Idol" television show finale at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California in this May 24, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello/Files
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 15: American singer, songwriter, musician and actor Prince performing in NYC at the Bottom Line on February 15, 1980. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)
Prince performing in Minneapolis on April 30,1990. (Photo: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect)
American pop star Prince performing at Wembley, London, 22nd August 1990. (Photo by Graham Wiltshire/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American singer-songwriter Prince performs on stage, London, 1993. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
The Artist formerly known as Prince performing at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View Calif. on October 10th, 1997. Image By: Tim Mosenfelder/ImageDirect
FOR RELEASE WITH STORY BC-ENTERTAINMENT-PRINCE - The Artist formerly known as Prince seen here in a publicity photograph, July 29. The Artist formerly known as Prince has a new album "Newpower Soul" which was recorded, pressed and distributed by his NPG records label without the assistance of a major industry label. MS/CM/SB
05/16/00 New York City The Artist Formely Known as Prince reclaims his name 'Prince' and announces public tours at his Paisley Park Studio, during a press conference in New York City. Photo by Evan Agostini/ImageDirect
UNDATED FILE PHOTO: Singer Prince. (Photo by Diane Freed)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 8: Musical Artist Prince performs at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Singer Prince, who was presented the Vanguard Award, performs during the 36th NAACP Image Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, March 19, 2005. The award show will be telecast on the Fox televison network in the United States on March 25. REUTERS/Lee Celano ljc/MK
HOLLYWOOD - FEBRUARY 27: Musician Prince arrives at the 77th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater on February 27, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 19: Musician Prince performs onstage at the 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on March 19, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Jun 30, 2006; New York, NY, USA; PRINCE performing at the Celebrate Brooklyn concert in Prospect Park. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Aviv Small/ZUMA Press. (©) Copyright 2006 by Aviv Small
Milan, ITALY: US singer Prince is pictured during Italian fashion house Gianni Versace show during the Spring/Summer 2007 women's collections, 29 September 2006 in Milan. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 04: Musician Prince performs during the 'Pepsi Halftime Show' at Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
MIAMI - FEBRUARY 01: Musician Prince performs during the Super Bowl XLI Half-Time Press Conference at the Miami Convention Center on February 1, 2007 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
July 7th, 2007 - Minneapolis, MN, USA - The first ten fans in line for an exclusive Prince performance at Macy's downtown received photographs of the iconic Minneapolis funk rocker. Prince performed with his band on the 8th floor at Macy's downtown during an exclusive concert launching his new per
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 25: Recording artist Prince leaving the 2007 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Mortons on February 25, 2007 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JUNE 01: Singer Prince performs onstage during the 2007 NCLR ALMA Awards held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on June 1, 2007 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NCLR)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Singer Prince on stage at the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center on February 10, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 3737 -- Air Date 03/27/2009 -- Pictured: Musical guest Prince performs during the Mercedes Benz outdoor concert series on March 27, 2009 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank
US singer Prince performs on October 11, 2009 at the Grand Palais in Paris. Prince has decided to give two extra concerts at the Grand Palais titled 'All Day/All Night' after he discovered the exhibition hall during Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel fashion show. AFP PHOTO BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 08: Prince attends the Apollo Theater's 75th Anniversary Gala at The Apollo Theater on June 8, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by George Napolitano/FilmMagic)
Prince Tour 2011
US singer and musician Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson) performs on stage at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on June 30, 2011. AFP PHOTO BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)
Sept. 24, 2012 - Chicago, Illinois, U.S. - Prince performed at the United Center on Monday night. Prince is scheduled to play three consecutive night as part of Welcome 2 Chicago. September 24, 2012, Chicago, Illinois, United Center, Prince in Concert, Welcome 2 Chicago (Credit Image: © Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/

Don't rich people normally have wills?

Lawyers with wealthy clients strongly recommend wills, or trusts, which many prefer because a trust doesn't have to go through probate and can remain secret. That's usually appealing to someone as private as Prince. Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Howard King, who represented Prince from 2011 to 2013, wouldn't say whether he discussed having a proper estate plan with Prince, but said his death has generated a lot of new trust and estate business in the entertainment community. "Every one of our artists has very strong ideas about how their intellectual property should be handled, so we do make sure to advise all clients to make sure that if they care about how their property is handled after they pass, they need an estate plan," King said. "And some clients take our advice and some don't."

Read MoreJudge in Prince's Estate Case Authorizes DNA Testing

What's next?

No hearings are scheduled. Within the next six months, someone is likely to petition the court to appoint a personal representative, who would have authority to make the big decisions. And that could be the beginning of a big fight. That petition could come from Nelson, who got Bremer Trust named special administrator. She might ask to be named executor, or another sibling could seek that job. Experts say there's a good chance the court will pick Bremer Trust or another neutral party. The court will also have to rule on the company's motion to dismiss as frivolous a claim filed by a California man who contends Prince gave him control over his music catalog and vault via a verbal agreement in the mid-1990s. With so much money at stake, it's a good bet that more claims will come for the court to sort out. The judge has set a four-month deadline for creditors.

What about the taxman?

Taxes could gobble up over half of Prince's estate. Come January, whoever is in charge of the estate is supposed to file estate tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, assuming it's worth more than about $5 million, and with the state, assuming it's bigger than $1.6 million. Those tax filings won't be public, but the bills could be substantial since the top federal rate is 40 percent and Minnesota's is 16 percent.

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