Kelly A. Burgy
What Happens to Elvis' Legacy Now?
Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, died in 1977. Like most celebrities of his stature, he left behind a complicated legacy—and a considerable estate. Elvis’ estate, including Graceland, ended up in the hands of his only child, Lisa Marie Presley, who passed away in January at fifty-four years old. It is now set to pass to Lisa Marie’s three daughters.
Several complications could make administering Lisa Marie’s estate a messy affair. Personal financial issues, a wide age gap between her children, and a challenge to her Will by mother Priscilla Presley cast doubt over what will happen not only to her estate, but the future of Elvis’ legacy.
Lisa Marie: Her Inheritance and Finances
Lisa Marie was born in 1968 to Elvis and Priscilla Presley. Less than a decade later, her father passed away from a heart attack at the age of forty-two. Lisa Marie would die of her own heart problems nearly forty-six years later, in January 2023.
Elvis never lost popularity in the decades following his death—his estate raked in an estimated $400 million last year, as the 2022 Elvis biopic movie helped to boost the value of the estate from around $500 million to more than $1 billion.
The Elvis Presley Trust
When Elvis died, his estate was placed in a trust, with Lisa Marie, Elvis’s grandmother, and his father as the beneficiaries. Elvis stipulated that Lisa Marie’s inheritance was to be held in trust for her until her twenty-fifth birthday on February 1, 1993. On that date, the trust automatically dissolved, and Lisa Marie inherited $100 million.
Part of her inheritance was her childhood home, Graceland, which has become a museum and international tourist attraction that generates over $10 million per year. Lisa Marie started a new trust, the Elvis Presley Trust, to continue managing Graceland and the rest of the Elvis estate, which also includes the business entity Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc (EPE). Lisa Marie was owner and chairperson of the board of EPE until 2005, when she sold 85 percent of its assets.
Graceland and the Living Trust
Lisa Marie retained 15 percent ownership in EPE but 100 percent sole personal ownership of the Graceland mansion. She owned the entire thirteen-acre Graceland grounds, as well as her father’s personal effects, such as his awards, cars, costumes, and wardrobe. In 2013, Lisa Marie said, “Graceland was given to me and will always be mine. And then passed to my children. It will never be sold.”
Her children—thirty-three-year-old Riley Keough and fourteen-year-old twins Harper and Finley Lockwood—stand to inherit their mother’s money and property through a living trust. Her son, Benjamin Keough, died in 2020.
Since it appears that Lisa Marie did not file a separate will, the living trust—an estate planning document that allows an individual to transfer ownership of accounts and property to a separate entity (the Trust), controls the accounts and property as the trustee while they are alive, and names a successor trustee to manage the accounts and property when they die—looms large.
Priscilla Presley’s Trust Challenge
Priscilla Presley has disputed the validity of a 2016 amendment to Lisa Marie’s Trust that removed Priscilla and a former business manager as trustees and replaced them with Riley Keough and Benjamin Keough.
Court filings indicate that Priscilla says she was not notified of the change as required by law. She also claims there is no witness or notarization for the amendment, her name was misspelled in the document, and her daughter’s signature looked unusual. Priscilla has asked a judge to invalidate the amendment that removed her as trustee.
Lisa Marie’s Financial Troubles
Despite inheriting $100 million when she turned twenty-five-years old, legal documents indicate that, upon her death, Lisa Marie was in financial trouble. The documents show that she had around $95,000 in cash and $715,000 in bonds, stocks, and other assets. She also reportedly had more than $100,000 in monthly earnings from EPE.
However, the same documents show a $1 million tax debt and $92,000 in monthly expenses. And, in 2021, her ex-husband Michael Lockwood reopened a lawsuit against Lisa Marie seeking $4,600 per month in child support.
By 2016, her $100 million trust had been reduced to just $14,000 cash. This revelation came from a lawsuit against her manager, Barry Siegel, for allegedly mismanaging her wealth. Lisa Marie claimed in 2016 divorce documents that she was $16.67 million in debt. In 2019, Siegel, who counter-sued Lisa Marie, said the deal to sell off her 85 percent stake in EPE cleared up over $20 million in debts she had incurred.
Potential Legal Issues for the Lisa Marie Presley Estate
The uncertainty of Lisa Marie’s estate raises several legal questions that will most likely be left to the courts to resolve.
The Living Trust Challenge
If Priscilla’s challenge to the living will amendment is successful, the amendment will presumably be treated as invalid. This would mean Priscilla, not Lisa Marie’s daughter Riley, would be named the successor trustee and have control over the trust’s money and property.
While her financial status is still unclear, if Lisa Marie was in debt, her creditors would have the chance to make claims against her estate. The estate has the option to honor or reject any creditor claims. Rejection could lead to litigation.
Because creditors receive priority over those entitled to inherit Lisa Marie’s money and property, her accounts and property, including Graceland, might have to be liquidated or sold to satisfy Lisa Marie’s debts. In her case, estate taxes could also be due even after debt is calculated, and an estate tax valuation could take time if creditors bring lawsuits against Lisa Marie’s estate.
Her Daughters’ Inheritances
Assuming that there is enough liquidity in the estate to satisfy creditors without selling Graceland, the mansion and any remaining money and property would pass to daughters Riley, Harper, and Finley. But the mansion comes with maintenance and tax expenses of over $500,000 per year. It is not clear whether the daughters would agree to support these costs and keep control of the Elvis legacy in the family.
The daughters could decide to sell Graceland. But if even one of the daughters wants to cash out, it could lead to internal conflict among them. The ages of the daughters are another wildcard. Did Lisa leave her twin daughters’ inheritances in trust until they come of age, as her father did for her? Or does the trustee have discretion? And will the trustee end up being daughter Riley or mother Priscilla following the trust challenge?
There is no guarantee, either, that Lisa Marie left an equal inheritance to all three daughters. Although this is common practice, there is no law mandating that children be treated equally in estate plans. Parents are free to divvy up their money and property however they see fit. An unequal bequest could be another source of inner-family conflict.
Control What You Can with an Estate Plan
Lisa Marie Presley’s tragic and untimely passing is a reminder that none of us know the time, place, and manner of our death. But we can assert control over our legacy through estate planning.
A well-considered estate plan eliminates some of the uncertainty we all face, helping to bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones. To start planning today, contact our office to schedule an appointment.
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