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Beneficiary Battle over Presley Estate Reveals Possible Problems in Estate Planning

This is the situation facing the estate of Lisa Marie Presley, whose estate is being challenged by her mother, Priscilla Presley, as described in a recent article, “Presley beneficiary battle sets example of poor estate planning practices” from Insurance NewsNet. These situations are not uncommon, especially when there’s a lot of money involved. They serve as a teachable moment of things to avoid and things to absolutely insist upon in estate planning.

Lisa Marie’s estate is being challenged because of an amendment to the trust, which surfaced after she died. The amendment cut out two trustees and named Lisa Marie’s children as executors and trustees.

At stake is as much as $35 million from three life insurance policies, with at least $4 million needed to settle Lisa Marie’s debts, including $2.5 million owed to the IRS.

When this type of wealth is involved, it makes sense to have professional trustees hired, rather than appointing family members who may not have the skills needed to navigate family dynamics or manage significant assets.

A request to change a will by codicil or a trust by amendment happens fairly often. However, some estate planning attorneys reject their use and insist clients sign a new will or restate a trust to make sure their interests are protected. In the case of Lisa Marie, the amendment might be the result of someone trying to make changes without benefit of an estate planning attorney to make the change correctly.

The origins of the estate issues here may go back to Elvis Presley ’s estate plan. His estate was worth $5 million at the time of this death, $20 million if adjusted for inflation. His father was appointed as the executor and a trustee of the estate. His grandmother, father and Lisa Marie were beneficiaries of the trust. Lisa Marie was just nine when her famous father died, and her inheritance was held until she turned 25.

When his father died, Priscilla was named as one of three trustees. When his grandmother died, Lisa Marie was the only surviving beneficiary. She inherited the entire amount on her 25th birthday—worth about $100 million largely at the time because of Priscilla’s skilled management.

Terminating such a large trust and handing $100 million to a 25 year old is seen by many estate planning attorneys as a big mistake. Distribution at an older age or over the course of the beneficiary’s lifetime could have been a smarter move. Lisa Marie reportedly blew through $100 million as an adult and was millions of dollars in debt, despite the estate having plenty of cash because of two large life insurance policies.

In 1993, Lisa Marie established a trust naming her mother and former business manager as trustees. The amendment in question seems to have been written in 2016, removing Priscilla and business manager Siegel as trustees, appointing Lisa Marie’s daughter and son as trustees, and naming her son and her fourteen year old twin sons as beneficiaries.

Priscilla’s attorneys say they had no prior knowledge of the change. Certain changes in estate plans require written notification of people with interest in the estate, which did not occur. They are also challenging the amendment’s authenticity, saying it was neither witnessed nor notarized. Priscilla’s name is misspelled and Lisa Marie’s signature is not consistent with other signatures of hers.

The estate is being contested, with a preliminary hearing on the matter scheduled for April 13.

Any changes to an estate plan, particularly those involving changes to the will, trusts or beneficiaries, should be done with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. When large changes are made, or large assets are involved, a simple codicil or amendment could lead to complicated problems.

Reference: Insurance NewsNet (Feb. 17, 2023) “Presley beneficiary battle sets example of poor estate planning practices”