About an Estate Doing Business During Probate

A lot of estates are comprised of businesses that still have to operate while the probate court does its work. And more than a few of those estates are the estates of the owner and sole decision maker of that business. That complicates matters. As it has been since the unfortunate death of Prince early last year, the Prince estate is once again a perfect example.

Prince, as we all know by now, died without a will. Despite that, he was an astute businessman. He ran his music empire, smartly and carefully and very, very much in control.

When he died, his music, as it will be for generations, was played on all manner of media all day, every day. His companies were paid every time a Prince song played on the radio, and wherever else Prince had approved. Prince was adamantly opposed to online streaming services like Spotify, as well as YouTube and the like. He wanted greater control over his songs – his assets – than he thought those services offered him.

That, of course, changed with his death. This past February his estate cut a deal with Spotify and moved his catalog there. It has been immensely popular, Purple RainĀ alone it has been listened to over 45.6 million times. A solid business decision, though one wonders if Prince would have approved, despite the payout.

In the last few weeks another business decision by the estate has made the news and not in a good way. We commented on this on a Facebook post a few months ago – the court appointed administrators of the estate and the special ‘music advisers’ they had hired cut a deal to sell a major portion of Prince’s music catalog to Universal for upwards of $31 million.

That sale was just voided by the probate judge after Universal threatened a law suit, citing fraud and misrepresentation against the administrators and, most specifically, the estate’s music adviser. It seems that Universal was not happy when they found out what their money was buying and, most importantly, what it wasn’t buying – Prince’s biggest hits.

The probate judge had the estate return the money (it had been paid upfront) citing the fact that the estate would be wasting assets going to trial.

Reselling those songs may turn out to be problematical – the deal’s been tarnished by Universal’s experience and the subsequent bad press.

Okay, it’s a story about millions of assets – but that’s beside the point. The point is that an estate with an active business in it needs firm direction and a lot of help. Probate id tough enough without trying to manage a business within its confines. We see it all the time.