3 February 2023 by Olivia Pisapia

Suspicious Minds: Priscilla Presley challenges Lisa Marie’s Will

Lisa Marie Presley (‘Lisa Marie), daughter of rock ‘n’ roll legend, Elvis Presley, died on the 12th of January 2023 and it has been reported that her mother, Priscilla Presley (‘Priscilla’), has commenced legal action to challenge an amendment that Lisa Marie made to her Will in 2016.

Allegedly, the 2016 amendment would see Priscilla and Lisa Marie’s former business manager, Barry Siegel (‘Barry’), both removed as trustees of the estate.  In their place, Lisa Marie’s two children, Riley Keough and Benjamin Keough (‘Benjamin’), would become co-trustees on Lisa Marie’s death instead. Benjamin pre-deceased Lisa Marie in 2020.

Being replaced as a trustee means that Priscilla will not have any control over her daughter’s assets and she will not be involved in managing her estate.  It seems it is this issue of control (or lack of) which is the main motive and underlying cause of the dispute, as the beneficiaries of the trust (i.e. the people who will benefit from the trust funds) do not appear to be in dispute.

Priscilla has claimed that the 2016 amendment should be overturned and deemed invalid.  If a judgment is made to this affect, the earlier version of the Will, without the amendment, would come into force and Priscilla would remain the trustee.

Priscilla seems to rely on the following grounds to support her claim that the 2016 amendment is invalid:

  • Lisa Marie’s signature was inconsistent with previous signatures;
  • Lisa Marie’s signature was not witnessed; and
  • Priscilla was not notified that she was being removed as a trustee, which is a breach of the terms of the trust.

It is understood there had been previous litigation in around 2018 concerning the way in which Priscilla and Barry had been managing Lisa Marie’s lifetime trust. Commentary suggests that, as a result of bad investments, the trust fell in value from around £1,000,000 to £14,000.  Perhaps this explains why Lisa Marie made the changes that she did in 2016.

The position regarding Wills in England and Wales

Whilst the Presley case will unfold across the pond in America, it is worth noting that in England and Wales it is possible to bring a claim to challenge a Will on the following grounds:

  1. The testator (the person making the Will or Codicil) was unduly influenced to do so or the Willwas obtained by fraudulent calumny.
  2. The testator did not have the relevant testamentary capacity to execute the Will.
  3. The testator did not know or approve the contents of the Will.
  4. The testator did not execute the Will or Codicil correctly.

Tips to prevent a challenge to a Will

When considering making or amending a Will it is always advisable to seek professional assistance, especially if the proposed Will is going to exclude a family member and is at risk of being disputed in the future.

Will challenges often become incredibly costly and so it is of course sensible to do what you can now, to reduce the risk of this happening in the future.  Here are some of our top tips:

  • Whilst signing a Will might seem like an obvious and simple thing to do, the rules on execution are very precise. A very minor mistake could instantly make your Will invalid. A solicitor will be able to advise you on the formalities for executing a Will to ensure it is not open to scrutiny further down the line.
  • It is vital that the reasons for making any potentially contentious changes are well documented.You should discuss the reasons with your solicitor so that they can keep detailed notes within your Will file which could help defeat a challenge post death.
  • We often see homemade Wills being challenged on the basis that the testator did not know and approve of the contents of the Will.This is especially so in circumstances where the Will is made online by a family member on the testator’s behalf, and that family member is also set to benefit considerably under the Will. Whilst this all may be done in good faith, if there are any controversial terms within the Will, then this situation could open the Will up to a challenge in the future and so it is always best to instruct a solicitor yourself and to make sure anyone who benefits under your Will is not involved in the process in any way.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is good practice to have a capacity assessment carried out prior to executing your new Will. It is very common for a Will to be challenged on the basis that the testator lacked the required capacity to give instructions for and sign their Will, especially when the testator is elderly.  For elderly testators, it is therefore recommended that a medical professional carries out a report which can then be stored within your solicitor’s Will file and used as evidence if needed in the future.

Whether Priscila’s purported claim is likely to be successful remains unknown, but it will be interesting to see how the case unveils.  Regardless of what happens, this case serves as a useful reminder to all of the importance in having a Will that is well drafted and is executed properly to prevent unwanted challenges post death.

If you would like further advice on defending or bringing a Will challenge, please contact Olivia Pisapia in our Disputed Wills and Trusts team or if you would like advice and assistance with drafting a new Will, please contact our Wealth and Estate Planning team.

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