Lisa Marie Presley, the only daughter of Elvis Presley, died unexpectedly on January 12, 2023, at the age of 54. Weeks later, doubts arose as to the fate of the appeal filed by Priscilla Presley’s mother, in which her niece, actress Leo Keough, was involved.
When Elvis Presley died in 1977, he left a will creating a trust to a group of people, Lisa Marie, his grandmother and his father. Under the terms of the trust, when Lisa Marie turned 25, if both her father and grandmother passed away, the trust would terminate and the benefits would be distributed.
Lisa Marie was only nine years old when her father died. At first his mother took charge of the matter. Among other things, he created a project for the benefit of Elvis’ copyrights and image rights and turned Graceland into a tourist destination. In 1993, when Lisa Marie turned 25, the inheritance was already worth 100 million. Today, Elvis continues to earn money beyond the grave, ranking fourth on the Forbes list of the highest paid dead celebrities in 2012.
* This may change over time. On January 25, 2023, Priscilla Presley filed a petition with the Los Angeles Superior Court that could reverse the situation.
According to court documents, on January 29, 1993, Lisa Marie Presley appointed her mother and former business manager Barry Siegel as co-plaintiffs. On January 27, 2010, he completely amended his credit and resigned, leaving the name of the trustees intact. This matter is not disputed.
However, after the passing of Lisa Marie, Priscilla was informed of the existence of a new document, in the form of a trust amendment dated March 11, 2016. This amendment removed the previously named co-trustees and replaced them with Lisa Marie. Mary as current trustee, with her daughter, Leo Keough, and son Benjamin Keough, successor co-trustees. Benjamin Keough later died in 2010.
The petition alleges that there are several problems with the 2016 amendment, including that Priscilla’s amendment was never delivered, as required by the original terms of the trust. Also, there are problems with the document, adding data via pdf and missing the name of Priscilla. No correction note appears on the writing page, and Lisa Marie Presley’s signature does not match the usual signature. Finally, the 2016 amendment was not witnessed or notarized and, according to court documents, the original was not located.
The petition contends that the 2016 amendment “repeats the invalid amendment in 2010.” Priscilla seeks to invalidate the 2016 amendment and reinstate the 2010 emphasis as “a document of authority and control.” It probably won’t be easy.
According to this report, Keough and Priscilla are likely to meet at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, where actor Austin Butler (who in 2022 won worldwide recognition for his performance in the musical Elvis biopic) has been nominated for a strong Oscar for best actor. But both have not yet confirmed their compliance with the matter.
Even when they believe the case is a cakewalk, the legal process can be long and potentially difficult.
In this case, despite some of the chapters that raise a controversy about the will, it is a testamentary trust, sometimes revocable or called an inter vivos (“living”) trust. This distinction is of both procedural and evidential importance.
While a challenge to a will is filed in probate court, a probated trust is considered unproved. Non-probate assets are those that pass outside of a will, such as life insurance and retirement accounts, that pass to designated beneficiaries – and can be handled differently.
However, according to the petition, under the probate code and related case law, California probate courts have jurisdiction over probated and probated trusts (ie, those that take effect after death) to hear matters relating to the validity of trust agreements or amendments.
Challenge of wills
The requirements for contesting a will may vary, but generally include allegations of excessive authority, lack of capacity, fraud, forgery, or revocation. The time to file a challenge is usually short: in some jurisdictions, the challenge can be filed as soon as three months after the probate. Often the process can be difficult, as a properly probated will is presumed to be valid.
The challenge of the trustees
Although the requirements for challenging the validity of a testamentary trust are generally similar (allegations of excessive power, lack of capacity, fraud, forgery or revocation), it is generally considered more difficult to challenge a testamentary trust than a will. There are a few reasons, among which it is more likely to have a living trust drawn up by a lawyer than as a do-it-yourself document, which can add a layer of trust. In addition, the words of a trust are often known during their lifetime, and trust assets can be manipulated during the lifetime of the trust creator, making the argument that they lacked capacity or were victims of forgery or fraud difficult to prove.
Whether contesting a will or a trust, the burden of proof is high. Neither the will nor the trust can be challenged because you believe that the provisions are unjust.
Then the stairs
What then follows? Filing a petition to contest a will or trust is only the first step. The process can be lengthy, with additional jury appearances, scheduled hearings and a discovery process where parties can collect evidence for trial if necessary.
A hearing in Presley’s case is scheduled for April 2023.