Estate Planning Lessons from the Presley Family

March 21, 2023 | Wendy Hoey Sheinberg | Trusts & Estates

Attention-grabbing headlines declare that Priscilla Presley is challenging Lisa Marie Presley’s trust. The facts of the case, as they appear in the court filing, are not as dramatic as the headlines, but the controversy surrounding Lisa Marie Presley’s estate highlights many of the potential pitfalls that can arise when estate planning occurs without the input of experienced legal counsel.

In January of this year, Priscilla Presley filed a petition in the Superior Court of California, asking the court to determine the validity of a trust provision and other related relief.

According to the petition, Lisa Marie formed a revocable trust called the Promenade Trust, which she fully amended on January 27, 2010. The restated trust named Lisa Marie, Priscilla, and Lisa Marie’s then business manager, Barry Siegel, as co-trustees.

The trust contained specific language that future changes could be made to the trust but would only be effective if they were delivered to the trustee(s) during Lisa Marie’s lifetime. The trust also required the trustees’ acceptance of any changes affecting their powers, duties, or compensation.

After Lisa Marie’s death, a PDF of a document, which purported to amend the trust, was discovered. The document was not delivered to the trustees after Lisa Marie’s death, and the date appeared to have been added to the PDF after the document was created. The purported amendment had other issues including misspelling Priscilla’s name and a signature that did not match Lisa Marie’s. Moreover, it was not witnessed or notarized. Finally, the purported amendment did not follow state law, and it did not follow the plain language of the trust.

According to the court file, the purported amendment mainly changed the succession of trustees. Priscilla is seeking clarification and the ability to disregard the purported amendment based on the number of legal issues affecting its validity.

Estate plans, like wardrobes, should change as we go through life, and should be designed by people with the proper skillset. Events like divorce, inheritance, estrangement, and the births of children/grandchildren are the kind of major life changes that serve as the catalyst for estate plan changes. Estate planning is not a DIY matter, and while it is true that anyone can write a document, there is a big difference between can and should. Without proper legal representation the simplest estate plan can turn into a complicated litigation nightmare.

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