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Lisa Marie Presley’s tragic, untimely death continues to take sad twists and turns. As a “legacy celebrity,” there is heightened public interest in her death, and in the four months since her passing, countless articles have been written about her estate, and rampant speculation continues to surround her affairs.
When I wrote a THR guest piece earlier this year describing California’s postmortem procedures in light of this matter, my inner idealist thought it would be the last time I would speak of Lisa Marie Presley’s estate. My practical side had a hunch we would see a lot more. The reality, of course, appears to be even messier than one would expect.
In late January, less than two weeks after Lisa Marie’s death, we learned that her mother, Priscilla Presley, had filed a petition with the Los Angeles Superior Court. In her lawsuit, Priscilla seeks to set aside a 2016 amendment to Lisa Marie’s trust that removed Priscilla from overseeing Lisa Marie’s financial affairs after her death. She alleges that the amendment was never delivered to her in direct violation of the original trust, and that Lisa Marie’s signature looks wonky, suggesting that it could be the product of fraud or forgery. There are also other nits, such as Priscilla’s own name being misspelled.
Priscilla’s petition is devoid of any factual details that would answer a few of our burning questions, like: Were Priscilla and Lisa Marie close enough that Lisa Marie would have shared minute details of her estate plan with her mother? How does Riley Keough — Lisa Marie’s daughter, who replaced Priscilla as a successor trustee — feel about Priscilla’s petition and the relief it seeks?
None of these questions are addressed in Priscilla’s filing.
Probate hearings are generally set a few months in advance to allow for all interested persons in the action to appear and voice their positions. Priscilla’s petition was initially set for hearing on April 13. As a probate litigator, I was waiting with bated breath to see whether Riley, in particular, would file a response. However, a review of the court docket indicated that a response to Priscilla’s petition has yet to be filed and that the hearing has been pushed to May. On April 13, however, the court addressed a petition from Lisa Marie’s ex-husband Michael Lockwood to be appointed as the guardian ad litem (“GAL,” or legal representative) for their 14-year-old twins.
Lockwood’s petition was unopposed, and all signs indicated that it would be blessed by the court. Out of the presence of the parties, the court granted Lockwood’s petition the following Monday. What I found most interesting in the court records was the fact that the court staff attorney picked up on a statement in Lockwood’s petition that he “is not subject to any conflict of interest, as he is not a beneficiary of the trust.” I may be a total cynic here, but this nugget could be a possible downside to Lockwood’s appointment. In other words, can the court and parties really trust Lockwood’s self-serving statement that he is conflict-free? Is it sufficient that he’s not a beneficiary of Lisa Marie’s trust established for the benefit of her children? Should the fact that they were embroiled in a custody battle during her lifetime matter?
Probate litigation is all about the decedent’s intent, and we often go to great lengths to determine and honor that intent. What is most surprising to me is that I don’t see anything in the record indicating that anyone tried to determine and effectuate Lisa Marie’s wishes with regard to Lockwood’s appointment as GAL. Would Lisa Marie concur that Lockwood’s appointment is a “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (to quote a title of one of her father’s songs), ushering in much-needed advocacy on behalf of her minor children? Or would she argue that another one of her father’s famous songs is more apropos here? “Hound Dog” comes to mind.
Benny Roshan is chair of Greenberg Glusker’s trusts and probate litigation group.
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