Lisa Marie Presley’s Death Highlights Estate Challenges of Multigenerational Fame – A process that is meant to be simple and streamlined can, in reality, take years to answer the question: what will the star’s heirs inherit?
Nothing educates the public about estate law (and, sometimes, probate litigation) like the death of a celebrity. The passing of Lisa Marie Presley is likely no exception. High-profile deaths often shine a light on the sometimes complex post-death proceedings to shuttle a person’s wealth to his or her heirs or beneficiaries — assuming the estate is solvent when all is said and done and there is something to distribute. This process is referred to as “post-death administration” and, often, with famous decedents, it is marred by complications such as pending lawsuits and claims by creditors. By all accounts, it appears Ms. Presley’s estate will encounter the same fate.
Ms. Presley’s untimely death presents complex estate administration issues that will need to be sorted out in the coming months and, likely, years. What typically happens, or should happen, when a person dies is for her representative (i.e. executor or trustee) to marshal all of her assets, pay her debts (including applicable federal estate taxes), and then distribute any balance to her heirs or beneficiaries. This process is meant to be simple and streamlined but, in reality, can take years.
Although Ms. Presley’s passing is very recent, publicly-available information indicates her estate administration may teeter on the complicated side. The reasons for this include the fact that Ms. Presley is what one would call a “legacy celebrity.” Her fame didn’t simply start and end with her. She inherited more than wealth from her father, who was none other than the King of Rock and Roll. Simply being the daughter of Elvis Presley gave Ms. Presley icon status, arguably in perpetuity. Adding to her legacy status is the fact that Ms. Presley’s mother, Pricilla Presley, is a famous actress. The fact that Lisa Marie Presley herself acted and released albums added additional layers of fame. Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Ms. Presley’s (albeit brief) marriage to Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. Most go through life not even coming remotely close to being associated with any sort of musical juggernaut, and yet, Ms. Presley was closely linked to two of the most talented musical giants of all time. While all that fame should and typically does come with a lot of wealth, sadly, in Ms. Presley’s case, that may not be the reality for her heirs.
Public records indicate that Ms. Presley claimed she had very little or nothing left of her inheritance from her father. In a legal battle with her former business manager (and co-trustee) Barry Siegel, she alleged he mismanaged her millions leaving her with only $14,000. The details of what happened to that lawsuit are not public, but it is quite possible that any settlement Ms. Presley reached may not have been significant enough to provide a financial restart. Her protracted divorce from her fourth husband further fuels the speculation that Lisa Marie’s wealth had declined significantly in the past decade. For instance, in her divorce litigation, Ms. Presley made financial disclosures which detailed her sources of income and her assets.
All of that messy litigation raises at least one burning question: What will Ms. Presley’s three daughters inherit from her? In other words, how much of that Elvis Presley legacy is still left to be passed down to his granddaughters, two of whom are still minors? We know that Ms. Presley personally owned Graceland and her father’s personal effects, so there is a possibility that her daughters will inherit Ms. Presley’s interest in those assets. That is assuming those assets are not consumed by their liabilities. Ms. Presley’s heirs may also inherit any intellectual property rights that Ms. Presley owned and monetized. Finally, Ms. Presley’s untimely death may generate future revenue for her heirs in the form of post-mortem book deals and movies.
It is too soon to tell what the final tally will be for Ms. Presley’s estate, but the public will undoubtedly be enriched with the information and details that emerge as her post-death administration gets underway (or plays out in court).
Guest author Benny Roshan is chair of Greenberg Glusker’s trusts and probate litigation group.
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