Elvis Presley’s Estate … Not Quite Fit For A King

by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez


Elvis Presley was an American singer, musician and actor, well known as an iconic global symbol, winning the title “King of Rock and Roll,” or simply “The King”. The King sold over one billion records, starred in 33 films, made history with television appearances and specials, and played many record-breaking live concert performances in Las Vegas and throughout the country.

Elvis died at his Memphis home on August 16, 1977, at the young age of 42, from heart failure related to drug addiction. He left behind a cash-poor Estate, with only about five million dollars and loads of debt. He did have a living Will and a Trust in which he appointed his father, Vernon Presley, as Executor and Trustee. The beneficiaries of the Trust were Vernon, Elvis’ grandmother Minnie Mae Presley, and his nine-year-old daughter Lisa Marie Presley.

But the King failed to name an alternate or back-up choice for Executor and Trustee. Vernon had poor health, was advanced in age, and did not have the skills to manage assets as valuable as Elvis’ royalties, income, and properties. Elvis left Vernon in a vulnerable position to the King’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who quickly took advantage of the situation by convincing Elvis’ dad to sign a new agreement to let Parker manage the Estate and receive 50 percent of all income in order to “protect” Vernon.

Parker had previously brokered a deal to sell royalties from the large majority of Elvis recordings to RCA for a paltry $5.4 million – only $1.35 million of which found its way into Elvis’ pocket after Parker’s 50% fee and income taxes. In fact, it took a Probate court battle to remove Parker and his exorbitant take from future Estate dealings.

Priscilla Presley, ex-wife of The King, stepped into the picture and assumed primary management of the Elvis Presley Estate, as one of the Executors. With the help of financial professionals, Priscilla formed Elvis Presley Enterprises, or EPE, to manage all Elvis image rights and remaining royalties, which primarily included turning Graceland into a tourist attraction. Between Graceland profits, merchandising, image deals, and royalties from songs recorded after the RCA transaction, Priscilla and her co-Executors of EPE helped grow its value to a reported $100 million by 1993. That was the year during which Lisa Marie Presley turned 25 and became eligible to inherit the money directly under Elvis’ Last Will and Testament.

So, the moral of this Famous Estate: Choosing the right person as the Trustee or Executor and always making sure to have one or more back-up plans will ensure that your Estate stays with your loved ones.

By leaving it all in Vernon’s hands, Elvis’ Estate became an easy mark for Parker. If not for the Probate court’s investigation and intervention, Lisa Marie might have been left with nothing but debt.

Many people make the mistake of automatically choosing an Executor or Trustee based on who is the oldest child or perhaps who lives closest. In reality the key competent in choosing a Trustee or Executor is “trust.”  While Elvis clearly trusted his father, he should have been more careful to think through who would be in the best position to protect his Estate and legacy.  Naming only one Executor, with no alternate choices, is very risky, especially when the nominated person is older.

How Can You Get Started with Your Estate Plan?

If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, then we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you would like to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website www.menendezlawfirm.com

Nydia Menedez Nydia Menéndez
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax:  (954) 963-7232
menedez law firm

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