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Fight For Graceland: Why Priscilla Presley Is Disputing Lisa Marie’s Living Trust

Lisa Marie Presley, from left, Priscilla Presley and Riley Keough, family members of the late singer Elvis Presley, write their names in cement during a hand and footprint ceremony in their honor on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.

Lisa Marie Presley (left), Priscilla Presley (center). and Riley Keough (right), family members of the late singer Elvis Presley, write their names in cement during a hand and footprint ceremony in their honor on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.

Priscilla Presley, the 77-year-old widow of rock icon Elvis Presley, filed a petition Thursday against the estate of her late daughter Lisa Marie Presley that will determine who retains control over Graceland, the famed Memphis mansion where Elvis, his grandson — and now his only daughter — are buried.

Lisa Marie died suddenly in Los Angeles on Jan. 12, just days after attending the Golden Globe awards where actor Austin Butler was recognized for his performance in the Elvis biopic. The cause of her death has not yet been determined.

As Elvis’s sole heir, Lisa Marie inherited $100 million in 1993 on her 25th birthday. The current value of those assets is unknown, as reports have surfaced over the years indicating that much of Lisa Marie’s assets were squandered and mismanaged. In 2005, she sold 85% of her inherited assets, including publishing rights to 650 Elvis songs, for approximately $100 million. At the time of her death, Lisa Marie retained a 15% interest in Graceland Holdings, the parent company of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which operates Graceland.

Lisa Marie Presley had four children and was unmarried at the time of her death. Two children were shared with her first husband, Danny Keough: daughter Riley Keough, age 33, son Benjamin Keough, who died by suicide at age 27 in 2020; and two with her fourth ex-husband, Michael Lockwood: 14-year-old twin daughters Harper and Finley Lockwood. Presley was also briefly married to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage.

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Upon her death, Lisa Marie’s assets were held in a “living trust,” which means that the trust documents —and not a will— determine the administration and distribution of those assets upon her death. A living trust is a legal creation that owns property in its own right but allows a trustee to control that property during their lifetime. Then, upon the trustee’s death, the trust distributes that property in much the same way that a will would have functioned.

The trust document that established the trust for Lisa Marie’s assets names Priscilla and Lisa Marie’s former business manager Barry Siegel as trustees; the designation does not allow either trustee to use trust funds for their own purposes, but rather, gives them authority to manage trust assets or make distributions in favor of the trust’s beneficiary. Presley sued Siegel in 2018 for squandering her inheritance. Siegel denied the allegations and countersued, accusing Presley of excessive spending. The lawsuit appears to have been ended in 2020, but court records did not disclose further details.

However, a 2016 amendment to the trust shifted control to Benjamin and Riley Keough, Lisa Marie’s oldest children. Because Benjamin died before his mother in 2020, the amendment would now transfer control solely to Riley.

However, an attorney representing Priscilla reportedly filed a petition contesting the amendment on multiple grounds. Priscilla argues that she was not notified of the change as is required under state law, that signature on the document does not match Lisa Marie’s handwriting, and that the signature is neither witnessed nor notarized.

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Under California law, trust amendments are only valid if they are signed, notarized, and attached to the original trust agreement.

Priscilla has asked the court to invalidate the amendment and revive a 2010 version of the trust, which would allow her and Siegel to continue as co-trustees.

In addition to the contested trust amendment, TMZ reported Monday that Lisa Marie initiated multiple life insurance policies shortly before her death with payouts totally at least $35 million to be split among her three surviving children.

Life insurance policies are generally administered separately from either estates or living trusts and would entitle beneficiaries to predetermined payouts at the time of the insured’s death. Although the timing of any life insurance policies begun in close proximity to an insured’s death might create stumbling blocks for beneficiaries seeking to collect death benefits, details relating to life insurance policies would not be likely to impact a court’s decision regarding a contested trust amendment.

Representatives for Lisa Marie and Priscilla Presley, as well as for Graceland did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

[Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos