In January 2023, Lisa Marie Presley, only child of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, died aged just 54. The family now faces a legal dispute. Priscilla is disputing the validity of Lisa Marie’s will, and a petition was filed in a Los Angeles court just two weeks after her daughter’s death.
Priscilla is challenging a 2016 amendment to Lisa Marie’s will which removed her as a trustee of her ‘living trust’. The amendment also removes Lisa Marie’s former business manager, Barry Siegel, as trustee, and replaces him with Riley and Benjamin Keough, Lisa Marie’s children from her first marriage. Following Benjamin’s death, the sole surviving trustee is now Riley.
Priscilla claims that the amendment is invalid as it misspells her name and bears a signature ‘inconsistent with [Lisa Marie’s] usual and customary signature’, and consequently was never truly signed by her daughter.
It is understood that Lisa Marie inherited her father’s estate worth USD $4.9 million on his death. Due to the shrewd business efforts of Priscilla in her capacity as trustee, the value of the estate increased to over USD $100 million. In 2005, the majority of the estate’s business shares were sold, but control of Graceland was retained.
It is unclear at this stage whether Riley will oppose this application. The full facts of this case are yet to be known, and there may well be further disclosure and witness evidence to come.
This is a case which is pleaded in the US, but these types of claims to challenge the validity of documents (or to rectify mistakes in documents) are regularly dealt with by contentious private client teams here in the UK. Concerns about the validity of documents most often come to light only after death. These concerns can be about the formality of the document, forgery, or undue influence, or about the capacity of the deceased when they executed the document.
Claims of this nature can be incredibly distressing for family members. Individuals often make assumptions that their affairs are in order and do not routinely check documents, with mistakes only being exposed after death. In situations where there is a dispute and a claim contested, the outcome may have an impact on the control of the estate, or provide great monetary benefit to one or more party. Such claims can be highly emotive.
From a solicitor’s point of view, each case should be approached with the aim of achieving the most suitable outcome for each client. This will generally mean gathering evidence to uncover the circumstances surrounding the making of the contested document. Family relationships have a value in themselves, and we try to always take a collaborative and progressive approach. It should always be considered whether settlement can be achieved via agreement, either in correspondence or via alternative dispute resolution, with mediation routinely being the method of choice for parties.
If you do find yourself in a situation where there are concerns about the terms or validity of a document, it is important that you take legal advice at the earliest opportunity. Seeking early advice can ensure you take the right approach and steps before diving into a dispute. Some key early strategy advice can mean the difference between a messy, unhappy situation, and one where you can successfully use the law to get the right outcome.
The contentious private client team at Penningtons Manches Cooper has extensive experience in dealing with cases of this nature, as well managing any accompanying press and media attention. If you require assistance, please contact the team.