Challenges to estate planning documents | Fendrick Morgan Law

Estate Troubles of the Rich and Famous: Lisa Marie Presley

Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis Presley, passed away earlier this year at the age of 54.  Unfortunately, the start of the administration of her estate was met with legal troubles stemming from the fact that her mother, Priscilla Presley, challenged the validity of one of Lisa Marie’s estate planning documents.  Specifically, Priscilla was challenging an amendment purportedly made by Lisa Marie to her estate plan in 2016, which removed Priscilla as Trustee and replaced her with Lisa Marie’s children, Riley and Benjamin.

Priscilla’s challenge to Lisa Marie’s estate planning documents was based on the assertions that the 2016 amendment was not witnessed or notarized, the authenticity of Lisa Marie’s signature on the document was questionable, and Priscilla did not receive a copy of the amendment when it was executed, which was supposedly required per the terms of the trust.  Fortunately, in May, the parties in the Presley case were able to reach a settlement or resolution of the matter, and Priscilla’s challenges were dropped.  The specifics of the settlement have not been disclosed.

Estate planning woes are not limited to the rich and famous.  These kinds of cases that make national news, however, help to highlight important estate planning problems that can arise after a person has passed away so that all of us non-famous folks can try to prevent those same problems from arising in our own estate.  As may have been the case for Lisa Marie in 2016 when the new document was executed, it is incredibly common to replace an aging parent previously named as a fiduciary (Priscilla) with your children once the children reach a certain age (Riley and Benjamin).  However, even if the 2016 document accurately memorialized Lisa Marie’s wishes at that time, it was opened to increased scrutiny due to the allegations that it was not validly executed and the procedural steps required by the trust were apparently not followed.

The key takeaway from Lisa Marie’s case is that it is incredibly important to have validly executed documents.  We often advise clients that anyone can challenge their estate after they pass away, but if your documents are validly executed in accordance with your state’s laws, such as ensuring that requirements like the presence of witnesses and notaries are met, it typically makes it difficult for someone to successfully challenge a document’s authenticity.  In addition, in New Jersey, the probate of a validly executed Will is inexpensive and quick with our county Surrogate’s offices.  However, if your Will is not validly executed in accordance with the law, the probate process for a purported Will becomes substantially more complicated, uncertain, time-consuming, and expensive for your heirs or intended beneficiaries.

If you have concerns you wish to discuss in connection with updates to your estate planning documents, please call our office at 856-489-8388 or contact us here to schedule an appointment so that we can make sure any amendments or changes to your documents are done properly.

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