Celebrity Estate Planning: Lessons Learned from Lisa Marie Presley and tWitch 

Celebrities may be wealthy, but despite their money and popularity, they make mistakes too. One area where we’ve seen lots of costly mistakes is in estate planning, where certain actions (or lack of taking any action at all) can trigger years of court battles or cost their heirs millions of dollars. 

The mistakes celebrities have made run the gamut, from never writing a will (similar to tWitch, who we will discuss in this article) to not informing loved ones of major changes and updated versions of documents (similar to Lisa Marie Presley). The best we can do is to learn from their mistakes.  

We have addressed this topic several times over the years. Recently, several new celebrity estate planning mistakes have come to light. Among them are Lisa Marie Presley and tWitch, both of whom died recently at a very young age.  

What We Can Learn from Lisa Marie and Elvis Presley 

When Elvis Presley died in 1977, his Will left his estate to three beneficiaries – his father (Vernon Presley), his grandmother (Minnie Mae Presley), and his only daughter, Lisa Marie. Both Vernon and Minnie Mae died within a few years of Elvis, leaving Lisa Marie as the sole beneficiary of the estate. 

Under the terms of Elvis’ Will, Lisa Marie was not entitled to receive her share in the estate until she reached the age of 25. This meant that those assets were held in a trust for Lisa Marie, presided over by Priscilla Presley, the National Bank of Commerce in Memphis, and Joseph Hanks (Elvis’ former accountant) as trustees. 

The problem was that Elvis’ free spending, in addition to a hefty tax bill levied on the estate after his death, meant that the estate was cash poor and unable to keep up with the costs of running Elvis’ famous home, Graceland. 

As a result, Priscilla Presley created Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) in 1981 – a company with a professional management team, intended to manage the assets and conduct the business of the estate. Although the Presleys retained ownership of Graceland, the doors of the 23-room mansion were opened to the public under the organization of EPE. It is estimated that, even today, the landmark attracts over 500,000 visitors annually! EPE has since been instrumental in transforming Elvis’ legacy into a highly profitable brand, while protecting the estate’s Intellectual Property rights. 

Lisa Marie Receives Her Share 

Lisa Marie became entitled to receive her share in the estate in 1993, but rather than retaining personal ownership outright, she wisely opted to create a revocable living trust, which she called the Elvis Presley Trust, with Priscilla and the National Bank of Commerce as co-trustees. In addition to holding Graceland and all of Elvis’ personal assets, this trust held 100 percent of the shares in EPE. Together, Lisa Marie and Priscilla continued to build on the success of the Presley estate throughout the 1990s. 

Lisa Marie suffered some very public financial difficulties in the years that followed. It was said that she spent money in an unsustainable fashion. This, supplemented by four costly divorces, contributed to an unstable financial picture for Lisa Marie. In 2005, the trust she had created sold 85 percent of its holding in EPE for $50 million in cash, more than $22 million in stock, and the repayment of debts topping $25 million.  

The Trust Was Amended Twice Before Lisa Marie Died 

In 2010, Lisa Marie amended and restated the terms of her trust and clarified that she wished for her mother and Barry Siegel, Lisa Marie’s business manager, to act as trustees and deal with distribution of her assets on her death. She then amended her trust again in 2016 and removed Priscilla and Barry Siegel as co-trustees. In their place, Lisa Marie named her daughter Riley Keough and her son, Benjamin Keough, as co-trustees. Sadly, Benjamin died in 2020, leaving Riley as the sole trustee.  

Priscilla Presley is now seeking to challenge the 2016 alleged amendment to Lisa Marie’s trust amendment. In her court filing, Priscilla alleges that there “are many issues surrounding the authenticity and validity of the Purported 2016 Amendment,” including: 

  • It was never delivered to Petitioner during Lisa Marie Presley’s lifetime as required by the express terms of the Trust; 
  • The date of the Purported Trust Amendment was added via PDF; 
  • It was allegedly signed by Lisa Marie Presley, yet it misspells her mother’s name; 
  • Lisa Marie’s signature appears on a separate page from the substantive provisions of the amendment; 
  • Lisa Marie Presley’s signature appears inconsistent with her usual signature; 
  • The Purported 2016 Amendment was neither witnessed nor notarized. 

Priscilla’s lawsuit requests that the court determine that the Purported 2016 Amendment is invalid, confirming the validity and existence of the restated 2010 Trust, and confirming that Priscilla is a current Trustee of the Trust. The lawsuit indicates that Priscilla is concerned with both the technical irregularity of the document and the potential that there may have been an element of fraud surrounding the making of this “purported” amendment. 

It is important to understand that Priscilla is seeking to have herself reinstated as a trustee, and she is not seeking to challenge Lisa Marie’s wishes in terms of who should ultimately benefit from her estate. In this regard, claims that this petition is some form of “money grab” would appear to be mostly unfounded, though of course the trustee of a trust is entitled to reasonable compensation, and with a large trust, that compensation can be quite considerable.  

While the outcome of Priscilla Presley’s petition remains to be seen, this well-publicized case emphasizes the need to communicate with family members affected by any changes to documents and to follow proper protocol if you want to make any changes to your documents, so issues like this don’t arise.   

Review Your Estate Planning Documents and Update Them as Needed! 

It’s a wise idea to get your estate planning and incapacity planning documents reviewed at least every three to five years (although for your Power of Attorney (POA), I generally recommend it be re-signed every year or two because many banks won’t accept a POA that’s more than a year old). Similarly, the older an Advance Medical Directive is, the less likely it is that it will be honored by a doctor or hospital. With the new laws that go into effect and changes in your life that occur, it is important to have your legal and financial situation reviewed and your documents kept up-to-date. Click here for a list of life events when you should update your documents. Be sure to ask about The Farr Law Firm’s Lifetime Protection Program®, which ensures that your documents are properly reviewed and updated as needed, so that they will always have the proper effect under the law. 

Stephen “tWitch” Boss Died Without a Will 

In another sad and sudden celebrity death, the world lost Stephen “tWitch” Boss too soon in December of 2022. tWitch was an American freestyle hip-hop dancer, choreographer, actor, television producer, and television personality. He first gained fame in 2008, when he placed second on the American version of “So You Think You Can Dance.” From 2014 to May 2022, he was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as a repeated guest host and he was also a co-executive producer of the program. Many fans of tWitch were in shock when the beloved dancer died by suicide on December 13, 2022, at the age of 40. 

When tWitch died, he did not have any estate planning in place. He was survived by his wife, Allison Holker Boss, and three children: Weslie, 14, Maddox, 6, and Zaia, 3. tWitch “did not have a net worth” when he and his wife married in 2013, according to Allison. Allison said he “owned only personal effects of little value” before landing a permanent spot on “The Ellen Show.” 

Allison is asking a California court for half of their joint estate. The filing mentions the property the mother of three wants to receive as Stephen’s surviving spouse but notes she is not requesting administration over her late husband’s estate. “This includes any interest in a trade or business name of any unincorporated business or an interest in any unincorporated business that the deceased partner was operating or managing at the time of death,” the documents state. She is also requesting half of Stephen Boss Productions and his Goldman Sachs investment account. She said there were “no written agreements between them prior to his death.”  

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 60 percent to 2/3 of adults in America don’t have a Last Will and Testament or any other estate planning in place, so tWitch isn’t alone. And, although having a Will is better than having nothing in place, it’s certainly not enough. If you have only a Will, your estate will pass through the painful, expensive process of probate. Probate court is public, expensive, time-consuming, and leaves loved ones more prone to fighting. No one wants to leave their loved ones in such a predicament when they are going through a period of grieving.  

Estate Planning Is Important for Everyone 

We here at the Farr Law Firm have strategies in place to help all types of people plan for themselves and their loved ones, whether or not you are rich and famous … and most of our clients are not! With proper advance planning, each person can retain the assets it has taken a lifetime to accumulate and the peace of mind that their loved one’s needs will be adequately and properly addressed. If you or members of your family have not done Incapacity Planning or Estate Planning, or if a loved one is beginning to show signs that they might need more care than you can handle, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation: 

Northern Virginia Estate Planning: 703-691-1888 
Fredericksburg, VA Estate Planning: 540-479-1435 
Rockville, MD Estate Planning: 301-519-8041 
Annapolis, MD Estate Planning: 410-216-0703 
Washington, DC Estate Planning: 202-587-2797 

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.