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Priscilla Presley Contests Validity of Lisa Marie's Will



Thu 2 February 2023 Priscilla Presley Contests Validity of Lisa Marie's Will

Priscilla Presley, widow of Elvis, is challenging an amendment to the will of their daughter Lisa Marie. Eddie Bell, Solicitor in our Wills, Trusts & Probate department at Taylor Rose MW, discusses what we know so far and how English law treats amendments to wills.


What Has Happened? 

As has been widely reported, Lisa Marie Presley died in California on 12 January 2023. She was the only child of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, as well as a singer-songwriter in her own right.

Lisa Marie’s will originally appointed Priscilla and her former business manager as her trustees. In 2016, she purported to replace them with two of her children, Riley and Benjamin (who died in 2020).

Priscilla claims that the amendment was never delivered to her during her daughter’s lifetime as the will required. She also claims that the amendment misspelt her name and had a signature that appeared unusual.

How would this work in England & Wales?

Under English law it is possible to amend a will with a codicil. This can be used to, among other things, add or remove an executor. It seems as if this is what is alleged in the Presley case.

In order for a codicil to be valid, it must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses present at the same time, who must then also sign in the testator’s presence. These are the same requirements as for a will, but the witnesses to the codicil do not have to be the same people as those for the will.

How can a codicil be challenged? 

The grounds for challenging the validity of a codicil are the same as for a will.

If the Presley case were taking place in England & Wales, it seems as if Priscilla would be alleging incorrect execution and/or forgery, given the unusual appearance of the signature. The misspelling of her name would not be strictly relevant, so long as she is still identifiable.

While the testator is alive, there is no requirement in English law for an executor under a will to be told that they have been replaced in a codicil.

Are codicils a good way to change a will?

Codicils are most often used to make minor amendments to a will, such as inserting or changing a legacy (a gift of a fixed sum) or appointing an additional executor. However, it is crucial that any codicil be kept together with the original will. Otherwise, the executor might not be aware of it and so distribute the estate in the wrong way!

There is also the danger that the codicil could cause issues with the interpretation of the will. In the case of Barrett v Hammond [2020] EWHC 3585 (Ch), which we have discussed elsewhere on this website, a complicated will was amended by a poorly-drafted codicil. The original will divided the estate into a number of parts to be shared by beneficiaries, but the codicil did not deal with all of those parts and so a court application was required to make sense of the document.

In almost all cases, the safest way to change a will is just to make a new one.

Can't I just cross out the words I want to remove and hand write the new words in?

It is possible to make handwritten amendments on the face of a will, if the testator and witnesses sign or add their initials close to the amendment. This can be done, for example, to correct a typo or update an address.

Some testators try to add a handwritten clause after the original will has been signed. In order to be valid, it must be signed or initialled by the testator and both witnesses, or it will not be recognised as part of the will.

If words are deleted from the will and the amendment has not been executed correctly, the question is whether the original text can still be read. If it can, the amendment is void. If it cannot, the text is treated as blank. The latter can happen where the testator wants to change the amount of a legacy. If the original amount is unreadable and a new amount has been handwritten in, this can be especially problematic and the Probate Registry might require more evidence to see what the original amount was.

The best practice is to use handwritten amendments only to correct typos when the will is actually signed. All other changes should be made by making a new will instead.

How can Taylor Rose MW help?

At Taylor Rose MW, we have a thriving Wills, Trusts and Probate team who specialise in making and updating wills. If you would like to make any changes to your will, give us a call on 020 3540 4444, contact us to request a call back or click the 'contact us' icon to send us an email and one of our specialist team will be happy to discuss your wishes with you.

 

 


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