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Priscilla Presley's battle with granddaughter over Elvis's millions
A legendary clan caught up in an ugly legal row: Why Priscilla Presley is battling her own granddaughter Riley Keough over Elvis’s millions – and may well win
Despite grieving her daughter Lisa Marie’s sudden death in January, Priscilla Presley will be pitching up at Glasgow’s City Halls next month at the start of a series of intimate UK talk shows about her extraordinary life.
With tickets from £53.20 to £156.80 for a VIP package and ‘the chance to meet’ Priscilla herself, Elvis’s widow is promising to share personal stories and never-seen-before footage from her ‘career, life and marriage’.
But what prospective British theatre-goers really want to know, of course, is whether the 77-year-old actress will spill the beans on the latest Presley drama — the bitter family feud that has erupted in the wake of 54-year-old Lisa Marie’s death.
For, two months after that tragic event, the legendary clan is caught up in an ugly legal row, not least over who should take control of the financial legacy Elvis left his only child.
Leading the unseemly stampede into court is Priscilla herself, who is wrestling her own grand-daughter, 33-year-old actress Riley Keough, for control of the multi-million dollar trust left behind by Lisa Marie.
Pictured: Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley and Riley Keough at the ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ film premiere, after party, Los Angeles
Lisa Marie had originally appointed her mother as well as a former business manager as co-trustees of her estate when she turned 25 and came into her inheritance in 1993.
But according to legal documents drawn up seven years ago, the mother-of-four later changed her mind insisting that, in the event of her death, her eldest children — Riley and her brother Ben, who has since died — should take financial control, along with her youngest, 14-year-old twins Harper and Finley, when they came of age.
Priscilla claims she knew nothing of the 2016 amendment until her daughter’s death and, in a drastic move said to have left her granddaughter Riley shocked, has launched legal proceedings, claiming the document is invalid as well as potentially fraudulent, after questioning the authenticity of Lisa Marie’s signature.
A messy state of affairs, then, that is a world away from the Presley family’s apparently unified appearance at Lisa Marie’s emotional memorial service at Graceland on January 22, watched online by millions of Elvis fans around the globe.
There, in the shadow of Elvis’s beloved home in Memphis, Tennessee, Priscilla choked back tears as she spoke lovingly of her daughter, while Riley’s husband, Australian actor Ben Smith-Petersen, read out a message on Riley’s behalf in which she addressed her mother, saying: ‘Thank you for showing me that love is the only thing that matters in this life.’
But just four days later, Priscilla made her legal move.
According to the petition filed by Priscilla’s lawyers at the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles on January 26, Lisa Marie’s ‘purported’ 2016 decision was invalid for several reasons.
Among them, they claimed, Priscilla was not, as required by the terms of the trust, notified about the legal amendment which saw both her and Lisa Marie’s former business manager, Barry Siegel, removed as trustees.
She said her name was also misspelt. Lisa Marie’s signature also ‘appears inconsistent with her usual and customary signature’. Finally, the amendment wasn’t witnessed or notarised.
Priscilla Presley, Austin Butler and Lisa Marie Presley at the 80th Annual Golden Globe Awards
Priscilla is now calling for the court to declare the amendment invalid.
Joel Weinshanker, managing partner at Elvis Presley Enterprises in which Lisa Marie held a 15 per cent stake as part of her trust, told the Mail this week that Lisa Marie had been ‘quite certain’ and ‘very direct’ about who she wanted to carry on Elvis’s legacy and that was her eldest daughter Riley and — before his suicide, aged 27, in 2020 — her only son, Ben.
‘We discussed this many, many times before she passed,’ said Weinshanker, who spoke at Lisa Marie’s memorial.
‘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 said he was speaking out because ‘sometimes you just got to take a stand’.
But according to Sarah Wentz, a partner at U.S. law firm Fox Rothschild, which offers specialist advice to many of America’s high-net-worth individuals, Priscilla may well have a strong case.
‘When Lisa Marie created this trusteeship, there were specific provisions for how exactly a trustee could be replaced, and one of those provisions was that the trustee had to be notified,’ said Wentz.
‘If this is what Lisa Marie wanted for her kids upon her death, why didn’t she give her mother notice of the fact that she wanted to replace her? Why didn’t Lisa Marie fight that battle during her lifetime?
‘If her mother had said ‘no’, Lisa Marie would have had every right to start the process to remove her as a trustee. But that didn’t happen.
‘It may be that she was going to get around to doing it and died unexpectedly but that does not change Priscilla’s legal rights.’
Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie and Elvis Presley in 1970
Wentz added that the signature on the 2016 document was also troubling. ‘The signature was on a blank page so there’s no guarantee that Lisa Marie knew what the content was on earlier pages. You always put some sort of explanation on a signature page,’ she said.
The roots of Lisa Marie’s trust stretch back to Elvis’s death in 1977. At the time, his finances were in a precarious state. More than 50 per cent of his earnings — estimated to have been around $1 billion during his lifetime — had been scythed off by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
In 1973, Parker also sold off the singer’s entire back catalogue to the music giant RCA in a bid to pay off debts. Elvis was worth just $5 million when he died — around $20 million by today’s standards.
At first Presley’s father, Vernon, who was executor of his will, took charge but when he himself died in 1979, Priscilla took up the reins.
By then the Elvis estate had an outstanding tax bill of $10 million and an annual income of just $1 million.
It was Priscilla’s idea to form Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) to exploit the rights to her late ex-husband’s image with a global licensing programme, merchandising and TV and video projects, along with royalties from songs recorded after the ill-judged 1973 back catalogue deal.
She also opened up Graceland and, by the late 1980s, EPE was bringing in $15 million a year.
The estate was worth $100 million when Lisa Marie came into her father’s fortune in 1993. She formed the ‘Promenade Trust’ which established her as beneficiary of EPE, with Priscilla and Barry Siegel named as trustees.
In 2005, amid mounting financial troubles, she sold off the majority of EPE, leaving herself just 15 per cent, as well as ownership of Graceland.
She later sued Siegel for ‘reckless mismanagement’ of funds. The two eventually settled out of court.
Priscilla Presley and Riley Keough at The Humane Society of the United States Gala, Los Angeles on May 7, 2016
By 2019, Siegel was no longer a trustee, but if Lisa Marie was intent on also removing her mother from that role then why wasn’t she clearer about her intentions?
The answer may lie in what, according to U.S. sources, had become an increasingly fraught relationship with Priscilla.
For while, in recent months, the pair made several joint appearances — particularly while promoting Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic, which starred Austin Butler as the singer — they are said to have been barely speaking by the time Lisa Marie died.
One friend told the New York Post last month: ‘Lisa didn’t want to have anything to do with her mom. She was basically estranged from Priscilla for the last seven to eight years. They talked only when there was no option.’
The friend said that mother and daughter did not even want to sit next to each other at the Golden Globes in January, just days before Lisa Marie’s death, but were made to by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which organises the awards.
According to the friend: ‘I know with Lisa and Priscilla that they always had a strange relationship. They were often estranged.’
Another source told U.S. TV show Entertainment Tonight: ‘Lisa Marie was struggling, and it definitely put a strain on her relationship with her mother. They did not have a healthy or close relationship and it was very complicated. Lisa Marie always felt Priscilla was trying to have control over her.’ Lisa Marie spoke of tensions in the relationship during a 2015 interview published after her death in which she said her problems with Priscilla went back to her father’s death in 1977.
She claims that Priscilla, while grieving for Elvis, was lured into the Church of Scientology after being introduced by actor John Travolta and — unable to deal with Lisa Marie’s increasingly bad behaviour — used to ‘dump me off’ at Scientology facilities to undergo its ‘purification rundown’ from the age of 11.
Former high-ranking Scientologist, Karen De La Carriere, has also told the Mail that Priscilla used the church to try to control Lisa Marie’s behavioural problems with ‘obedience therapy’.
‘Priscilla then dominated poor Lisa. She grew up as a little princess. She was the daughter of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, living in luxury. But she had misery because she and her mothers were adversaries,’ said De La Carriere.
‘Whatever her mother wanted was the opposite of what Lisa wanted.’
Priscilla Presley holding her son Navarone Anthony Garibaldi, standing alongside her daugther Lisa Marie as Lisa holds her daughter Riley Keough
She claimed that mother and daughter were in ‘mortal combat’ for the rest of their lives, adding: ‘There was no harmony. A relationship of warfare, it was like living in a war zone.’
In recent years, tensions between Priscilla and Lisa Marie were said to have intensified in the wake of Lisa Marie’s bitter divorce from her fourth husband, guitarist Michael Lockwood.
Lisa Marie reportedly resented her mother for siding with 61-year-old Lockwood as the pair battled it out for custody of their twin daughters after separating in 2016.
They were eventually granted shared custody but, during divorce proceedings, Lockwood demanded $263,000 a year so that he could ‘enjoy a lifestyle that is closer to my marital status of living’ along with $40,000 a month in child support.
A judge ruled in favour of Lisa Marie, who said she was $16 million in debt and owed $10 million in taxes but Lockwood returned to court with a new claim in 2021 and the case remained unsettled when Lisa Marie died.
This week, Lockwood was granted full custody of his twin daughters by Lisa Marie, a move said to have left Riley, who took her mother’s side during the turbulent divorce and custody fight, angry about ‘losing’ her teenage half-sisters.
She was already said to be furious that Lockwood turned up to her mother’s memorial, as a guest of Priscilla. The pair are said to have flown to the service together.
‘Michael was not invited,’ a close friend told People magazine in January. ‘He came to Memphis under the pretence that he had to chaperone the twins — and forced his way in with Priscilla’s help.
‘The last thing Lisa Marie would have wanted was for Michael to be there.’
Now, as Priscilla pursues her legal case against Lisa Marie’s trust, Lockwood has also thrown his hat into the lucrative ring alongside her, filing a legal request to allow him to represent his two daughters when the case is heard in court.
What remains unclear is why Priscilla wants to administer Lisa Marie’s estate when Riley, as an adult — and, since last year, a mother herself — is able to make financial decisions herself.
A talented performer, she is currently starring in the hit Amazon Prime drama Daisy Jones And The Six.
Michael Lockwood, Ben Keough and Lisa Marie Presley attend the World Premiere of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows
A source in the U.S. has claimed Priscilla’s latest action is nothing more than a ‘money grab’. It has been alleged in court that while she was not automatically entitled to money from the trust, nevertheless she was making $900,000 a year from EPE.
A 2018 lawsuit filed by Lisa Marie accused her former business manager, Barry Siegel, of negligence and also claimed that he ‘allowed (and, in fact, lobbied) for Priscilla’s nearly $1million annual income’.
Lisa Marie’s lawyer argued that Priscilla was being paid the sum ‘even though Lisa’s mother has no ownership in EPE (nor was she performing any sort of executive-level work to justify the salary).
‘Siegel failed to disclose these facts to Lisa Marie and he did not negotiate the same salary benefit for her.’
The matter was settled out of court in 2020.
Which way this latest legal feud goes remains to be seen. A hearing is due to be held on April 13, exactly a week after Priscilla finishes her five-date UK tour with a performance at Newcastle upon Tyne’s Theatre & Opera House. Who knows what insights she may give into this ongoing saga?
When approached by the Mail for comment, representatives of both Priscilla and Riley did not respond this week.
But speaking as rumours of a feud with her granddaughter first began to swirl, Priscilla said: ‘My wish is to protect my three grandchildren and keep our family together.
‘I loved Elvis very much as he loved me,’ she added in a statement. ‘Lisa is a result of our love. For anyone to think anything differently would be a travesty of the family legacy and would be disrespectful of what Elvis left behind in his life.’
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