Lisa Marie Presley, the only daughter of Elvis Presley, died unexpectedly on January 12, 2023, at the age of 54. Weeks later, questions arose about what she will spend with her fortune after a legal challenge by her mother, Priscilla Presley.
Elvis Presley’s estate
When Elvis Presley died in 1977, he left a will who created a trust for the benefit of a group of beneficiaries, including Lisa Marie, her grandmother, and her father. Under the terms of the trust, when Lisa Marie reached the age of 25, provided both her father and her grandmother were deceased, the trust would terminate and the proceeds would be distributed.
At the time of her father’s death, Lisa Marie was only nine years old. Her mother, Priscilla, stepped in to manage the property. That included creating a strategy to profit from Elvis’ royalties and image rights and turning Graceland into a tourist destination. When Lisa Marie turned 25 in 1993, her estate was worth $100 million. Today, Elvis continues to earn from beyond the grave, ranking as #4 on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid dead celebrities of 2022.
Lisa Marie Presley’s estate
Immediately after his death, the Los Angeles Times reported that Presley’s children would inherit most of his fortune. In 1993, Lisa Marie had created a trust, as her father had done, that owned, among other things, Presley’s beloved Graceland. A Graceland spokesman said the trust, which will now benefit Lisa Marie’s children, said in an email to the Times: “Nothing will change with the operation or management.”
That may not be true. On January 25, 2023, Priscilla Presley filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court that she could turn things around.
According to court documents, on January 29, 1993, Lisa Marie Presley executed a revocable living trust naming her mother and her former business manager, Barry Siegel, as co-trustees. On January 27, 2010, she completely modified and reformulated her trust, leaving the designated trustees intact. Those facts are not in dispute.
However, after Lisa Marie’s death, Priscilla was informed that there was a new document, supposedly in the form of a trust amendment dated March 11, 2016. That amendment removed the previously named trustees and replaced them. with Lisa Marie as current trustee. , with her daughter, Riley Keough, and her son, Benjamin Keough, as successor co-trustees. Benjamin Keough subsequently passed away in 2020.
The petition alleges that there are several problems with the 2016 amendment. Among them, the amendment was never served on Priscilla as required by the original terms of the trust. Also, there are issues with the document, including the date being added via the .pdf and the trust misspelling Priscilla’s name. No amendment provision appears on the signature page, and Lisa Marie Presley’s signature does not match her usual signature. Finally, the 2016 amendment was not witnessed or notarized and, according to court documents, the original has not been located.
The petition argues that the 2016 amendment is “an invalid amendment to the 2010 updated trust.” Priscilla seeks to invalidate the 2016 amendment and restore the 2010 trust as the “authorizing and controlling document.” It probably won’t be easy.
Even when interested parties believe a case is a piece of cake, the legal process can be lengthy and potentially difficult.
In this case, despite some headlines suggesting the dispute is about a will, the focus is on a living trust, sometimes called a revocable or inter vivos (“lifetime”) trust. That distinction matters both in terms of procedure and evidence.
While a challenge to a will would be heard in probate court, a living trust is considered a non-probate asset. Non-probate assets are those that pass outside of the will, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts that pass to designated beneficiaries, and may be treated differently.
However, according to the petition, under the probate code and related case law, probate courts in California have jurisdiction over living and probate trusts (i.e., those that take effect after death) to hear arguments about the validity of trust agreements or amendments.
Contests of Will
The requirements for contesting a will may vary by jurisdiction, but generally include charges of undue influence, lack of capacity, fraud, forgery, or revocation. The time to file a challenge is usually short: in some jurisdictions, a challenge can be dismissed as soon as three months after probate. It can often be a difficult process, as a properly proven will is supposed to be valid.
While the requirements for challenging the validity of a living trust are often similar (allegations of undue influence, lack of capacity, fraud, forgery, or revocation), it is generally considered more difficult to challenge a living trust than it is to contest a will. There are a few reasons, including that a living trust is more likely to be drawn up by a lawyer than as a do-it-yourself document, which can add a layer of credibility. In addition, the terms of a trust are generally known for life, and the trust assets can be managed for the life of the trust creator, making the argument that they lacked capacity or were the victims of forgery or fraud difficult. to try.
Whether it is a contested will or a trust, the burden of proof is considerable. Neither a will nor a trust can be challenged simply because you believe the provisions are unfair.
So what comes next? Filing a petition to contest a will or trust is only the first step. The process can be lengthy with additional court filings, scheduled hearings, and a discovery process where the parties can gather evidence for a trial, if necessary.
A hearing in the Presley matter is scheduled for April 13, 2023.
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