Priscilla Presley has strong case in dispute over control of daughter's estate
When Priscilla Presley challenged her late daughter's will last week, it raised the prospect of a family rift and a messy legal battle over who would guide Elvis' lucrative estate.
But legal experts say the court is likely to back Priscilla's claim.
In a Los Angeles court filing, Presley asked a judge to invalidate a recently discovered 2016 document — one that replaced Presley and Barry Siegel (her daughter's former manager) as co-trustees of Lisa Marie Presley's trust with Lisa Marie's children, Riley and Benjamin Keough.
Elvis' ex-wife has cited various factors, including a suggestion that her daughter's signature may have been forged.
Attorney Benny Roshan, chair of Greenberg Glusker’s Trusts and Probate Litigation Group, said Priscilla Presley has a good case.
"They have made allegations that raise very valid concerns," Roshan said.
While the filing doesn't reveal a falling out between mother and daughter, it has put the family's personal dealings over the estate of the rock ‘n’ roll star in a public forum.
Lisa Marie Presley had appointed her mother and Siegel as co-trustees of her trust in 1993, according to her Jan. 26 petition.
But after she died on Jan. 12 in L.A., her mother said she discovered an amendment to the will, dated March 11, 2016, that replaced them both as trustees upon her death.
Priscilla Presley alleged the amendment was never delivered to her while Lisa Marie was alive, as required in the original trust. In her petition, she noted the date of the document misspelled Priscilla's name; that her signature looked inconsistent with her usual sign off; and it was neither witnessed nor notarized.
"They're very good points," said Cynthia Brittain of Karlin & Peebles. "If everything is as they portrayed, the case law is pretty clear."
Not only does the original trust document set out the process for amending it, California law establishes that orders laid out in such a document should be followed, Roshan said.
"California law confirms Priscilla's position that if the instrument provides a particular method of revocation, amendment or alteration, and you don't follow that, then it's not a valid instrument," Roshan said. "You have multiple bases to challenge this new amendment."
Sarah J. Wentz, a partner at Fox Rothschild, agreed.
"I think she does [have a good case]" Wentz said. "Unless [Riley] has some sort of claim that there was a bias against her and that the trustee couldn't be fair and impartial to her, I think that Priscilla will stay as the trustee."
Wentz also noted that the petition highlights that the signature of the amendment did not contain any text of the amendment, which Priscilla Presley said in her petition "can present a higher risk of fraud."
If the disagreement requires the court to investigate the authenticity of the signature, in some states like Texas a jury could decide the matter, said Dallas-based Ryan Sellers of the law firm Hales & Sellers.
But the California probate code, under which the Presley case falls, does not allow for jury trials in trust disputes.
Litigation over the validity of wills is common, especially in cases involving high-profile individuals.
"It's very common for relatives to come forward and dispute a particular change that decedent made during their lifetime," Roshan said.
Notwithstanding the legal dispute, Priscilla Presley denied any family rift in a statement Friday.
"I loved Elvis very much as he loved me," she said. "Lisa is a result of our love. For anyone to think anything differently would be a travesty of the family legacy and would be disrespectful of what Elvis left behind in his life."
Lisa Marie Presley is survived by her three daughters, actor Riley Keough, 33, and twins Harper and Finley Lockwood, from two different ex-husbands. Her son Benjamin died in 2020 at age 27.
The children have not yet commented on Priscilla’s filing. A representative for Riley Keough did not respond to The Times' request for comment.
Lisa Marie's stake in the Elvis estate has faded over the years but remains sizable, including Graceland, a magnet for fans. She also retained ownership of her father’s costumes, cars, awards and other possessions, according to the mansion’s website.
The Graceland property is in a trust that will now go to the benefit of Lisa Marie’s children, a Graceland spokesperson said previously. “Nothing will change with the operation or management,” the representative said.
Joel Weinshanker, managing partner at Elvis Presley Enterprises, the corporation founded by the Elvis Presley Trust that was at one point owned by Lisa Marie, said this week that she had always intended for her two children to lead her estate.
"There was never a question in her mind that they would be the stewards, that they would look at it exactly the same way she did,” he said.
In 2018, Siegel and Lisa Marie Presley battled in court. She claimed to be more than $16 million in debt that year and sued Siegel over alleged financial mismanagement. Her former manager then countersued, accusing Presley of wasting her inheritance and owing him money.
Siegel either planned to, or had already resigned, as co-trustee, it said. Siegel would be replaced by Lisa Marie's daughter, Riley Keough, according to the petition.
It's unclear whether or not Presley's granddaughter Riley wanted to serve as a co-trustee on the estate with Priscilla, which could complicate the court's decision, Brittain said.
Brittain said a judge could deem that if the granddaughter does not want to serve with her grandmother, or if there is some rift, that putting them together may not be in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
"We often put corporate trustees in when there's conflict within the family," Brittain said. "Because No. 1, the family's had a tremendous loss and everybody's grieving. Sometimes people grabbed for control, not because they're controlling, but it's some way of remaining close to the decedent. Maybe the petitioner thinks that way she can be closer to her granddaughter."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.