Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, earns more in death than most people ever earn in life.
But since the rock legend’s death in 1977, this posthumous cargo has had its fair share of twists and turns, with everything from its music catalog to its image rights being swept by the winds of capitalism.
The death of Lisa Marie Presley, his only child, on Thursday added another wrinkle to that legacy, and it could mean more changes for the property — including Elvis’ iconic Memphis, Tennessee, mansion at Graceland.
The property is in a trust that now benefits Lisa Marie’s children, a Graceland spokesman said. “There will be no change in operations or management,” the representative said in an email.
But Lisa Marie’s legacy is complicated by a financial history as strained as a rock star’s, and things could always change as they are passed down to the next generation.
Presley is survived by her three daughters, actor Riley Keough and twins Harper and Finley Lockwood, by two different ex-husbands. Her share of the estate, although diminished after previous dealings, is still substantial; next to graceland, she maintained Ownership of her father’s costumes, cars, awards and other belongings, according to the mansion’s website.
An integral part of music history, Graceland hosts 500,000 annual visitors to its 13 acres and 17,552 square feet. Lisa Marie Presley is buried at the property.
Her father’s legacy is back in the mainstream (if it was ever abandoned) after Warner Bros. released a hit biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler this summer. The film grossed $287 million at the worldwide box office and is widely expected to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
With all the focus on Elvis, things could get messy, according to legal experts who specialize in the estates of high net worth individuals.
“There are always complications when a single wealth owner passes away and their wealth is now shared among several individuals as they may have different needs and desires,” said Scott Rahn, founding partner at RMO LLP.
The issue most likely to arise, Rahn added, is that Lisa Marie Presley’s daughters — now several generations removed from Elvis himself — may not want to keep their fortune and could opt for a cashout instead. You could even sell the fabled mansion.
“Very often when you get into a situation like this, you get into a buyout situation… and then you get into valuation problems,” Rahn continued. False claims to the property, he said, will also likely come from the woodwork.
Presley, 54, helped look after her late father’s estate before she died Thursday after suffering a cardiac arrest. A musician in her own right, Presley’s death asked Messages of heartbreak from many celebrities.
Born into the limelight, Presley divided her youth between Graceland and Los Angeles after her parents — Elvis and Priscilla Presley — divorced. Under the terms of her father’s will, Lisa Marie became the sole heir to Graceland and the rest of the “Hound Dog” singer’s estate, but her inheritance was preserved until she was 25.
Though the rock star was a money cow during his lifetime, his lavish spending habits and short-sighted business dealings left the family in dire straits after his death. But with the founding of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Priscilla helped turn the mansion into a tourist attraction.
The property became a mecca for fans, but also gained a reputation for being tacky and starkly commercial. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a smart business decision: In 2020, Forbes reported that the property typically brings in over $10 million a year.
(It’s a familiar story when it comes to the posthumous legacies of musical megastars. When Michael Jackson, Lisa Marie Presley’s former husband, died, he left half a billion dollars in debt — but by 2018 his portfolio had brought in four times that much .)
When Lisa Marie Presley finally got access to her inheritance in 1993, she set up a trust in her father’s name to administer his estate. But in 2004 she agreed sale 85% of Elvis Presley Enterprises’ assets, including Elvis’s likeness rights, to music entrepreneur Robert FX Sillerman and his company CKX Inc. for approximately $100 million. Lisa Marie Presley retained a 15% interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Fortune reported at the time that the deal got CKX a 90-year lease on the mansion, as well as the publishing rights to 650 Elvis songs, though the licensing rights were far fewer. Much of Elvis’ best-known music — the material recorded before 1973 — had already been sold to RCA by the rock star’s manager, former barker Col. Tom Parker. The license rights for 24 Elvis films were also included.
CKX Inc. subsequently sold the estate rights to intellectual property firm Authentic Brands Group for $145 million. In 2020, a Presley manager told Rolling Stone that the Presley estate was worth about $400 or $500 million.
Through all that Graceland – now a National Historic landmark – remained in Presley’s hands. If it is sold after her death, Elvis Presley Enterprises, led by Joel Weinshanker, a managing partner, would be a good choice for the buyer, said Los Angeles-based attorney Tre Lovell of the Lovell firm.
“They know the value of the Elvis brand and would best know how to integrate Graceland into their existing licensing business,” Lovell said in an email.
Circumstances are further complicated by Presley’s personal financial problems. she claims more than $16 million in the hole in 2018, and subsequently sued her longtime CEO allegedly Financial mismanagement.
The manager, Barry Siegel, countersued, accusing Presley of wasting her inheritance and owing him money.
The New York Post reports that she owed over $1 million in taxes at the time of her death. Benny Roshan, chair of Greenberg Glusker’s Trusts and Probate Litigation Group, raised the possibility that her successors would have to deal with creditors or litigation.
“One of the things that happens when administering someone’s estate is that this is the opportunity to assert any valid creditors’ claims,” Roshan said, adding that creditors take precedence over heirs. “There could be potential lawsuits if creditors’ claims are denied by the estate.”
“All of these issues are going to come to the fore now,” he added.
Even if the family doesn’t need money to pay off Presley’s debt, there’s still a “high probability” that Graceland will be sold, said Ryan Sellers of the law firm Hales & Sellers.
“Depending on the children’s personality and leverage, even if there is enough liquidity in the estate to keep Graceland and pay off the creditors, will they have enough money left over to support it?” Seller asked in an email. At one point, taxes and maintenance costs were costing Graceland over $500,000 a year, the mansion’s website claims.
The deciding factor might ultimately be how exactly Elvis’ descendants want to control his legacy — or at least, at Graceland, his physical manifestation.
“When you come to this generation, will you want to preserve, preserve and honor those legacies?” asked Rahn. “Or is it something that over the generations…these feelings fade over time?”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2023-01-14/lisa-marie-presley-graceland-financial-legacy-elvis Lisa Marie Presley: A Complex Financial Legacy