Austin Texas Estate Planning Blog

Beneficiary Battle over Presley Estate Reveals Possible Problems in Estate Planning

Beneficiary Battle over Presley Estate Reveals Possible Problems in Estate Planning

March 23, 2023 • | Law Office of Zachary D Kamykowski, PLLC
A badly in debt woman dies leaving the proceeds of substantial insurance policies to her children only to have her trust contested by relatives who claim an amendment naming the children as beneficiaries is invalid with no witnesses, misspelled names, suspicious signatures and was never given to previous trustees for review as required by agreement. A long, expensive, and protracted legal battle likely is brewing.

This is an update on 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 a lot of money is involved. The Presley estate offers lessons and serves as a teachable moment of things to avoid and things to 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.

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The Presley estate offers additional lessons for non-celebrities. When this type of wealth is involved, or not, it sometimes makes sense to hire professional trustees rather than appoint 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 trust by amendment happens reasonably often. However, some estate planning attorneys reject their use and insist clients sign a new will or restate a trust to protect their interests. In the case of Lisa Marie, the amendment might result from someone trying to make changes without the benefit of an estate planning attorney to make the change correctly.

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

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

Many estate planning attorneys see terminating such an immense trust and handing $100 million to a 25-year-old as a big mistake. Distribution at an older age or throughout the beneficiary’s lifetime could have been wiser. 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 significant 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. Specific changes in estate plans require written notification of people with interest in the estate, which did not occur. They also challenge 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 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 significant 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.”

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