The Great Debate Over The Elvis Estate
Elvis fans keeping a close eye on the affairs of the Presley / Keough family will no doubt be aware of the tumultuous dispute over actual ownership and inheritance flowing from Elvis Presley’s estate, estimated between $400 and $500 million (as of 2020). The family has recently been under the spotlight for proceedings instituted in America on a trust dispute featuring applicant Priscilla Presley against her late daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. In this article, Law Clerk Riley Hickey and Senior Associate Lachlan Boyle investigate the Great Debate over the Elvis Estate and its implications in the context of Australian estate and trust disputes.
The late Elvis Presley delegated the entirety of his estate to his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who suffered a sudden death in early January. In late January, Priscilla Presley challenged the authenticity and validity of a 2016 amendment by her late daughter, Lisa, delegating her trust (incorporating the funds from the late Elvis Presley’s estate) to her granddaughter, Riley Keough. The purpose of this amendment was to migrate the control of the trust away from Priscilla and Lisa’s former business manager, to Lisa’s daughter, Riley. The challenge was based on the inconsistent signature on the relevant documentation, including that Lisa had incorrectly spelt her name and that her signature appeared inconsistent with previous iterations.
After a months-long legal battle (with the dispute settled outside of court), Riley Keough has officially been named the sole trustee of her late mother, Lisa’s estate. While the American-based proceedings can be differentiated from the Australian legal system and its processes involved in handling estate disputes, trust disputes and will disputes, the series of events serves as a prominent reminder of the importance of ensuring compliance with the relevant obligations concerning the execution of crucial legal documentation to ensure your wishes for your assets and estate are honoured.
What about the Will?
For our investigations, we will be looking at the ability to contest or challenge the validity of a Will based on similar concerns raised in the Presley dispute. Attempting to challenge a will in Queensland may be based on either:
- the legitimacy of the Will; or
- the adequacy of the beneficiaries’ entitlement under the Will.
Each of the above circumstances will be considered in turn.
Legitimacy of the Will
Failure to adhere to relevant procedural or administrative requirements upon execution of the Will may also result in invalidity or illegitimacy, such as where the testator fails to have their signature witnessed by independent witnesses, their signature is distinctive from previous iterations, or the testator fails to sign the will altogether. In addition, the legitimacy of a will may be challenged in other various circumstances, including where an entitled person (those with an interest in a deceased’s estate) suspects:
(a) that the testator may not have had the cognitive capacity or requisite understanding to execute or amend the will;
(b) the will was executed as a result of coercion or duress;
(c) the will was revoked by the deceased;
(d) amendments inconsistent with the deceased’s intentions were effected after the execution of the will;
(e) the testator was unaware or disapproving of the contents of the will;
(f) the will is forged or fraudulently created.
Adequacy of Provision: Family Provision Application
Entitled under a Will (relevantly, the deceased’s spouse, child or dependant) may seek to challenge the delegated inheritance but must prove that the stipulated provision was inadequate for the beneficiary’s proper ‘maintenance and support’. A mechanism to challenge the adequacy of provision is through a Family Provision Application.
While the Succession Act 1981 (Qld) omits factors relevant to the determination of an applicant’s success in contesting their provision under a Will, the case law indicates that the following circumstances may be considered, such as:
- The claimant’s financial position, health, age, relationship with the deceased, any relevant disentitling conduct, or contributions to the deceased’s estate;
- Whether any other person is liable to support the applicant;
- Whether the applicant is bound to support any other persons;
- The size and nature of the deceased’s estate;
- Further relevant factors as determined by the Court.
We otherwise note that a Family Provision Application can only be brought within Queensland’s jurisdiction provided that there is real property owned by the deceased located in Queensland, or the deceased domiciled (lived) in Queensland at the date of their death. If you are concerned about the appropriate jurisdiction to bring an Application, we encourage you to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
Time Limits and Procedure
In Queensland, time limits apply for contesting a Will, and it is vital to act without delay to ensure the relevant time frames are not missed. Suppose an individual is considering this course of action. In that case, they must notify the executor to the estate, in writing and within six months of the date of death, notifying them of their intention to contest the Will. In the absence of any contests that arise, the executor will be entitled to distribute the deceased’s estate in the ordinary fashion and per the deceased’s testamentary intentions.
The second relevant timeframe to contest a Will is the limitation date to bring a Family Provision Application in Queensland, which stipulates nine months from the date of the deceased’s death. However, it is sometimes the case that persons intended to bring a family provision application miss the relevant limitation date. In such a circumstance, not all hope is lost, and the court will consider the viability of an application being made out of time.
Factors to consider at the court’s discretion include:
(a) the length of the delay;
(b) any reasons for the delay;
(c) whether the executor has since distributed the estate; and
(d) any identifiable unconscionable conduct on behalf of the claimant.
The dispute over the Elvis Estate, juxtaposed against the backdrop of Australian trust and estate dispute regulations, brings to the fore the complexities inherent in estate management, inheritance, and trust validity. It underscores the essentiality of due diligence, both in the crafting and execution of legal documents, ensuring they remain unambiguous, valid, and representative of the testamentary intentions of the decedent. As evidenced by the events involving the Presley / Keough family, lapses in adherence to these principles can lead to protracted legal battles, family disagreements, and the potential loss of assets to unintended parties.
For those in Australia, particularly in Queensland, it is crucial to remain informed about the intricacies of contesting a Will, the relevant time frames for action, and the multitude of factors the courts consider in determining the legitimacy and adequacy of Wills. As with any legal matter, proactive action combined with expert legal advice is the best course of action to safeguard one’s estate and ensure the proper dissemination of assets in line with one’s wishes.
Act Now with Ramsden Lawyers
Navigating estate and trust disputes can be intricate, stressful, and emotionally taxing. Whether you’re faced with potential contestations, concerns over the legitimacy of a will, or need to ensure your own estate is secured and clearly defined, Ramsden Lawyers is here to guide you every step of the way. With our seasoned team of professionals well-versed in the nuances of estate disputes, we’re committed to safeguarding your interests and providing tailored solutions for all your needs. Don’t leave such critical matters to chance. Reach out to Ramsden Lawyers today and let us protect, support, and stand by you in these pivotal legal moments.
The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance to the subject matter and must not be relied on as legal advice. Specific advice should be sought about your circumstances.