Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of the late famous singer, Elvis Presley, passed away in January 2023 of cardiac arrest at the age of 54. Like many other celebrities, Lisa Marie’s estate is now unfolding much like a dramatic soap opera between her mother, Priscilla, and Lisa Marie’s children.
Lisa Marie did have a revocable Living Trust which originally named Priscilla and her business manager as co-trustees. However, shortly following Lisa Marie’s funeral service, Priscilla filed a petition with the court against the estate, challenging a 2016 amendment which removed her and her business manager as trustees. This amendment named her two eldest children, Riley and Benjamin Keough (who passed away in 2020) as trustees. Priscilla is claiming that she was never notified of this change and questioned the validity of the amendment. According to Priscilla, the 2016 amendment does not appear to have witnesses, there was a misspelling of her name and it was never given to the previous trustees for review.
While Lisa Marie and her mother have had a strained relationship in recent years, there are certain requirements by the California Probate Court to make changes to estate plans valid. The fact that there may not even be an attorney who could back up the validity of this amendment to Lisa Marie’s estate plan would suggest that she perhaps made these changes on her own and expected the court to uphold her wishes. For all the court knows, the children made the change and it was not actually a valid change. That’s what the court needs to decide.
All of this drama and court proceedings could have been easily avoided with proper estate planning with an experienced and licensed attorney who specializes in this area and who could have provided the necessary counseling and followed the proper procedures for ensuring that whatever Lisa Marie’s wishes were, they were properly carried out and enforced.
The Estate Planning Mistakes Didn’t Start with Lisa Marie
It is also important to note that the estate planning mistakes of Lisa Marie Presley’s estate did not start with her. It actually goes back to her late father who passed away with only a Will, naming his father as the only executor of his estate.
At the time of his death, his estate was only valued at $5 million and the cost to administer it was almost $2 million through a very expensive and costly probate process. While it may seem that his estate should have been much larger than $5 million, Elvis had a number of factors which resulted in his squandering his fortune, including a divorce, a very lavish lifestyle, and a well-known drug and alcohol addiction.
Elvis' long-time trusted manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had an agreement to receive 50% of the profits generated by Elvis and, following Elvis’ death, he convinced Elvis’ father to allow him to help manage Elvis’ estate and set up an agreement, which was later challenged and reversed, that entitled him royalties to Elvis’ name, image, and likeness on merchandise.
Lisa Marie Presley was only 9 years old at the time of her father’s death and his Will set up a trust for her until she reached the age of 25, when she then inherited Graceland. Imagine at the age of 25 years old receiving such a large inheritance! The result was that Lisa Marie, like her father, also had a lot of debts racked up and also lived a very lavish lifestyle that essentially squandered her inheritance from her father, while she also made a lot of poor business decisions and appointed her business manager to be in charge of her finances. Needless to say, she ended up having to sue her business manager for financial mismanagement and failure to keep her informed.
Some of the obvious estate planning mistakes to point out with Elvis Presley’s estate that would have set up Lisa Marie for far more success in terms of her inheritance and preservation of her father’s accumulated wealth include, but are not limited to:
MISTAKE #1: The use of a Will over a Living Trust.
Had Elvis Presley set up a Living Trust instead of a Will, he would have been able to avoid such a costly probate which would have better managed and preserved his estate for his beloved daughter. Additionally, a Living Trust may have called upon a named Trustee - - in his case, perhaps a corporate trustee - - to step in when Elvis’ spending and substance abuse became evident. This could have potentially either saved his life or, at the very least, properly managed and preserved his estate according to his wishes.
MISTAKE #2: Failure to Properly Plan for Lisa Marie’s Distribution.
While Elvis’ estate plan had provisions to delay the distribution of Graceland to Lisa Marie, who was only 9 years old when he passed away, her receipt of such a large inheritance outright at the ripe age of 25 with no protection or parameters to help her properly preserve her inheritance pretty much doomed her to failure. With estate planning strategies such as our Personal Asset Trust, there are provisions that would have been in place to allow for the maximum level of protection and preservation for her inheritance.
MISTAKE #3: Failure to Properly Plan for Management of His Estate.
Elvis’ father was the only executor named, with no successors named in the event that he was unable to act. His father was elderly and not well by the time that he was asked to step in, which made him extremely vulnerable to unscrupulous third-parties such as Elvis’ “trusted” manager. By properly naming the right successor trustee, again possibly a third-party corporate trustee, not affiliated or related to the family, Elvis’ estate could have been properly managed and taken care of upon his incapacity and demise.
From these mistakes, we can simply pass along the lessons that can be learned. Many people feel that estate planning is simply for the rich and famous, but the truth is that even with a moderate estate, the wealth that you may accumulate over your lifetime may still add up to quite a bit of money to then be passed along to your beneficiaries. It is important for the proper management, preservation and distribution of your hard-earned assets that you take the time, care and expense RIGHT NOW to ensure that regardless of life’s unexpected events - - which could lead to being either disabled or to your passing - - your wishes are properly carried out.
This is why the cheap, do-it-yourself and internet plans are not recommended. You and your loved ones are better serviced by taking the time to meet with an attorney who specializes in the area of estate planning, trust and probate law. In California, there are just over 1,000 lawyers certified in estate planning and at the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, all of our attorneys have this certification. While this certification is not required for you to obtain proper estate planning, it is certainly a factor to be considered when choosing your attorney.
If you or someone you know needs to either set up your estate plan or you haven’t had your estate plan reviewed in the last 3 years, we recommend that you attend one of our upcoming seminars to learn more about how a properly built and maintained estate plan can help you and your loved ones avoid the unnecessary headaches, drama and costly court process that may result from the kind of estate planning mistakes made by the Presley family.
Attend One of Our Trustee Seminars
We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena. Throughout the year, we offer a special topical seminar called, “The ABC’s of Successfully Acting as Successor Trustee”. To find out the dates of our next seminar, contact us via e-mail or by phone at 1-800-756-5596.