Priscilla Presley Has 'Good' Chance in Lisa Marie Trust Battle but Case May 'Drag for Years': Experts
Priscilla Presley may have a good shot at remaining the trustee of late daughter Lisa Marie Presley's trust estate, according to experts — even as longtime friends insist that Lisa Marie hoped the responsibility would fall to her children.
Sources previously told PEOPLE that when Lisa Marie, the only child of rock legend Elvis Presley, died on Jan. 12 at age 54, she left control of her trust — which includes Elvis' Graceland property and 15 percent ownership of Elvis' estate — to her daughter Riley Keough, 33.
Lisa Marie had previously named Priscilla, 77, and her former business manager Barry Siegel as co-trustees in 2010 — but a 2016 amendment put the trust in the hands of her actress daughter and her late son Benjamin Keough, who died by suicide in 2020.
Last week, attorneys for Priscilla filed a petition in Los Angeles questioning the "authenticity and validity" of the 2016 amendment due to various factors, including a name misspelling and an inconsistent signature.
"For some reason, Priscilla doesn't want Riley to act as trustee without her. The 2010 trust permits Priscilla and Riley to act as co-trustees. The 2016 trust permits Riley to act as trustee alone. Priscilla doesn't like this," says David Esquibias, a Los Angeles-based probate, trusts and estates litigation attorney.
Benny Roshan, also a probate, trusts and estates litigation attorney based in L.A., tells PEOPLE that per the filing, the biggest argument Priscilla has in her favor is the fact that the 2010 document stipulated that any changes made had to be delivered to Priscilla during Lisa Marie's lifetime — and according to Priscilla, they were not.
Rick Diamond/Getty Images Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley
"The law basically says follow whatever is in the document, and then the document says this is what you have to do," she explains. "So if the court is looking at it and truly those procedures were not followed, Priscilla has a good case of arguing that this new document that essentially replaces her is not valid. That's a good point if it was never followed."
Esquibias feels the same, telling PEOPLE that if Lisa Marie really did fail to follow procedure, things will work out for Priscilla.
"Absent other facts coming to light, such as the 2016 was delivered to Priscilla during Lisa Marie's lifetime, I think Priscilla wins," he says. "The 2010 trust explicitly makes the method of amendment the exclusive method of amendment. Therefore, under California law, that procedure must be followed, but according to Priscilla it wasn't."
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Esquibias continues: "If Priscilla is correct, and a court agrees with her that the 2010 trust provides an exclusive procedure for amendment that was not followed, invalidating the 2016 trust document, the other issues she raised, such as the misspelling of her name, the unfamiliar Lisa Marie signature, the Lisa Marie signature on a blank page, will never be answered."
Roshan also notes that per Priscilla's filing, Siegel (whom Lisa Marie sued in 2018 for mismanaging her funds) is not expected to accept his appointment as successor trustee — which would mean the duties then fall to Priscilla and Riley to act jointly as co-trustees should the 2010 document be the one deemed valid.
"In the 2010 document, if Barry Siegel is not available to serve as a successful trustee, then Riley steps in to serve along with Priscilla, because the intention of the document as it's written, is that there'll be two co-trustees acting at any given point," she says.
John Sciulli/WireImage Riley Keough and Lisa Marie Presley in 2012
It remains unclear just how long the legal battle ahead lies for the family, though a hearing for the matter is set for April 13, during which any interested party — in this case, likely Riley — can attend.
"Cases like this depend on whether or not other interested parties and family members disagree with Priscilla's position. If no one objects it can be completed in as little as a few months," Roshan says. "If someone objects to her position and takes a contrary position, e.g. that the 2016 amendment is valid, the litigation can drag out for years."
Days after her filing, Priscilla appeared to allude to the situation with a statement she shared on Lisa Marie's birthday.
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"Today would have been Lisa's 55th birthday. My wish is to protect my three grandchildren and keep our family together," Priscilla wrote. "From the first moment I held Lisa in my arms, I've protected, loved and guided her, as I have my son. Our hearts are broken, and I am having to learn to live without my only daughter."
Meanwhile, those close to Lisa Marie have continued to insist that the late star wanted her legacy to lie with her children.
Joel Weinshaker, managing partner at Elvis Presley Enterprises, appeared on Sirius XM's Elvis Radio to talk about his late friend, and said she was "quite certain" and "very direct" about the situation.
"We discussed this many many times [before] she passed, and that was always Riley and Ben," he said of the children, whom she shared with ex-husband Danny Keough. "There was never a question in her mind that they would be the stewards, that they would look at it the exact same way that she did. And obviously when Ben passed, it really sat with Riley."
He also insisted that though Riley has a career in acting and directing, she "always had an interest" and "knew that one day she would be in charge."