We were holding out hope that the probate of Lisa Marie Presley’s estate would go relatively smoothly, but unfortunately the case is shaping up to be yet another lesson in how not to do your estate planning. In one recent development, Lisa Marie’s mother, Priscilla, is challenging the validity of an amendment to her daughter’s living trust that named Lisa-Marie’s children as executors and trustees. The amended document purportedly removes Priscilla and Lisa Marie’s former business manager as the original trustees and completely cuts Priscilla out.
Per Priscilla’s allegations, Lisa Marie’s signature appears suspicious in the 2016 amendment and the document had no witnesses, misspelled her name and was never given to previous trustees for review as required by agreement. Priscilla and her granddaughter, Riley, reportedly aren’t communicating and are set to battle it out in court.
Separately, Lisa Marie’s ex-husband Michael Lockwood is seeking to represent their 14-year-old twin daughters, Harper and Finley, in an upcoming hearing for the trust. Michael asked a judge earlier this week to appoint him guardian ad litem, giving him the authority to speak on behalf of the daughters.
Does Priscilla Have a Case?
As far as Priscilla’s allegations, it will be up to the court to determine the validity of the amendment to the trust.
In California, a revocable living trust (the type we believe is at issue in this case) can be amended via an additional document or documents written after the original trust document has been signed and notarized. While such an amendment doesn’t need to be notarized, it needs proper witnesses and the grantor’s signature. Holographic documents are permitted in California as well if they’re in the grantor’s handwriting and with the grantor’s signature. Furthermore, pursuant to California Probate Code section 15402, California courts have held that where a trust instrument specifies how a trust must be modified, that method must be followed.
“Case law and the Probate Code provide the analysis for the court,” said Cynthia D. Brittain, partner at Karlin & Peebles LLP in Los Angeles. Depending on whether the court finds anything fishy about Lisa Marie’s signature and whether the original trust instrument did indeed require that trustees must be put on notice in the case of any changes to the document, Priscilla might have a strong case that the amendment was invalid. According to Brittain, Lisa Marie’s mental and physical health and her relationships at the time, along with circumstantial evidence of intent, will also play a role.
If the document is in fact invalidated based on Priscilla’s allegations, it will serve as a reminder of the ramifications of sloppily drafted wills and codicils, especially when a lot of money is at stake and family tension is likely. “Methods are drafted into trust documents to ensure that a vulnerable person is not taken advantage of and to ensure there is no fraud. Those methods are designed to protect, and the court will likely respect the devices explicitly drafted into a duly executed and accepted trust,” explains Brittain. Unfortunately, in situations where changes are not carefully made, these rules may work against the grantor.
Although there only appears to be one amendment in question here, many estate planners advise revoking the original document and rewriting it with the incorporated changes to prevent this type of scenario. It may seem an onerous task but better safe than sorry. The case also serves as a good example of why it’s sometimes advisable to appoint a neutral professional trustee rather than a family member to avoid family drama and fighting.