A Lesson from Lisa Marie Presley, Tony Hsieh, & Howard Hughes About Estate Planning

Everyone knows the expression “More Money, More Problems.”  But you can add orders of magnitude to this proverb if you die with more money and less estate planning. As we have seen in the past with Howard Hughes’ dubious will materializing in odd locations, and more recently with the tragedy of Tony Hsieh, the wunderkind Zappos founder who was worth billions but died without a will, even the billionaires are not immune from poor planning problems.

History repeats itself, and although we were all hoping that Lisa Marie Presley’s estate plan would look more like Michael Jackson’s [I know] well-orchestrated trust than Jimi Hendrix’s rocking cash bonfire, such was not to be the case. Shortly before she died, Lisa Marie supposedly cut her mother, Priscilla, completely out of her trust and estate, and instead inserted her own children as trustees and beneficiaries. Priscilla was apparently not pleased when she found out. Priscilla reportedly received less than one million dollars when Elvis died due to the fact their divorce had been finalized, with Elvis’s dad and Lisa Marie as the main beneficiaries. Further, they saw exponential growth in the value of Elvis’s estate following his death.

Priscilla has now set the stage for a Presley battle royale by challenging the validity of Lisa Marie’s trust amendment in court, claiming that the signature is bogus and that, as a former trustee of the trust, she was required to be notified of any amendments. Lisa Marie’s daughter Riley has reportedly stopped communicating with her grandmother, and Lisa Marie’s ex-husband is attempting to become the legal representative of Lisa Marie’s other two daughters.

Ultimately, the determination concerning the validity of the amendment will hinge on the evidence presented.  California trust amendments don’t need to be notarized, but they do need to be signed by the trust settlor(s).  California courts generally defer to the amendment provisions in the original trust document, so Priscilla could have a case depending upon the wording in the trust’s amendment provisions.

Regardless of the outcome, both sides will spend a great deal of time and money resolving this issue, and it will probably destroy their family. This case serves as another cautionary tale with regard to proper estate planning, especially with regard to documenting amendments. Many experts also advise restating the trust, instead of amending it, in order to avoid these types of situations. It is also advisable to appoint a neutral third-party as trustee, engage in family therapy during the planning process, and seek the advice of professional estate planning attorneys when forming or amending your trust.

The information above is not intended to and should not be construed as specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The opinions voiced are for general information only and are not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. To discuss specific recommendations for any unique situation, please feel free to contact us.

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