Statute of Elvis Lisa Marie Presley's FatherIt has become almost a tradition that when a celebrity dies, whatever they have left in their estate plan becomes a news story at some point. Sometimes, it's because they did a careful job of planning their estate after their passing, but more often, it's the celebrities who leave behind a legal mess that end up in the news. A more recent situation in the news has been the estate of Lisa Marie Presley.

Like many of the other celebrity estates in the news, Lisa Marie Presley's estate has hit the newswire because of an interesting document that has surfaced and there are questions about its authenticity. She died leaving three daughters and it appears that she was under a mountain of debt, including a $1 million debt to the IRS, had blown through nearly $100 million through bad business deals, and was claiming her monthly expenses were $92,000 in a recent filing in a custody dispute with her ex-husband. 

With all of these financial problems, an issue with the estate planning documents is probably the last thing the estate needs to deal with.

What's Happening with Lisa Marie Presley's Estate?

When I read the news, the first thing I tried to look at is what was going on here. Apparently, in 2016, Lisa Marie Presley created an amendment to her trust that removed her mother and her business manager as the successor trustees under the trust. What that likely means is that Lisa Marie was the trustee of the trust, she was managing the affairs of the trust, but if something happened to her (like when she died), her mom and her business manager would have taken over.

However, in 2016, this was allegedly changed so that she replaced her mom and her business manager with her two oldest children, Riley and Benjamin. Now Benjamin died in 2020, so at this point, Riley would be the only successor trustee left. Lisa Marie also had two twin daughters (aged 14), and they're not apparently mentioned as trustees in this document, and that's a good thing because being under the age of 18, there wouldn't be proper trustees at this point.

Priscilla Presley, her mother, has some concerns about this and is filing to contest the trust amendment on three different grounds. Priscilla says,

  1. The alleged document actually misspelled her (Priscilla's) name;
  2. The signature doesn't look like her daughter's signature; and
  3. There is no witness or notarization of this amendment.

As a lawyer, when I'm looking at this and I hear these are the three grounds, I really think there might be something going on here. We're also finding out that so far, there's been no will for Lisa Marie. So we're not sure if any other estate planning document would help us maneuver this situation, but without a will, that trust is going to be the operative document, the document that controls what happens. Remember, she's the only granddaughter of Elvis Presley. This is an important estate that many folks will be very interested in finding out about. We're also figuring that this is probably just going to be the beginning of the news about this estate. We could have lots of other things down the road hitting the news about this estate. Here in Minnesota, we've had that for years with Prince's estate. He died in 2016. And even seven years later, there are still proceedings going on to determine who is entitled to what under his estate.

What Should Have Been Done with Lisa Marie's Estate Planning?

Presuming the news is reporting things correctly, there are a few things that could have been done with the estate planning documents in this case that should have alleviated most of this drama.

  • A Valid Will. She had twin daughters who are aged 14, they're under the age of 18. We need to make sure that we have provisions for their care and that you have a valid will with guardianship provisions for their care, who would take care of them if you die before they reach the age of 18. You should also have a trustee to be able to manage the finances, to manage the money for those young children. Now without either of those I would be concerned on behalf of her 14-year-old twin daughters that we don't yet have a will showing who should be the guardian and frankly, who should be the trustee managing their money. Presumably, the trust that she had set up, the one that she tried to amend, has provisions for these 14-year-old twin girls. But if it doesn't, then we have a big hole in the estate plan.
  • Correctly Amending the Trust. If we're going to amend the trust, let's make sure we do it right. Each state is different as far as what the requirements are when you want to sign a document in your estate plan. Some documents need to be witnessed, some need to be notarized, and some need both. But when I hear about a document that was supposedly signed without a witness, without a notary, that usually leads me to believe there's something going on there because a valid document almost always needs at least a witness or notary. And in most cases, it's good practice to have both have a present.
  • Check Your Documents Before You Sign Them. I would also make sure you review your documents for spelling. I think Priscilla raises a good point in this regard: if this is a document prepared on behalf of her daughter, why would her mother's name be misspelled? Plus, for someone as famous as Priscilla Presley, you would assume that Elvis' wife, her name is well known enough that you would have it spelled correctly in these documents.

So we look at these three different things that could have been done differently. They would have alleviated probably most of the need for any legal proceedings in this case if we had a valid will to protect those young children, and if we had this trust amendment properly signed, and also reviewed to make sure that mom's name was spelled correctly.

Do You Need an Estate Plan?

If you don't already have an estate plan, or if you have one that needs to be updated, let's schedule a Legal Strategy Session online or by calling my Edina, Minnesota office at (612) 294-6982 or my New York City office at (646) 847-3560. My office will be happy to find a convenient time for us to have a phone call to review the best options and next steps for you to work with an estate planning attorney to get your estate plan prepared.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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