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Choosing the Right Fiduciaries Through the Lens of the Lisa Marie Presley Trust

One of the most important decisions made in creating an estate plan is whom to appoint as the fiduciaries tasked with putting the plan into action. Two of the main fiduciaries are an Executor, who oversees probate assets, and a Trustee, who oversees trust assets. In some plans, an Executor and Trustee is the same person, but in other plans, they are different people.

The importance in choosing the right fiduciaries was on full display in the press coverage of the Lisa Marie Presley estate earlier this year, highlighting in particular certain benefits in naming a professional fiduciary. After Lisa Marie died in January, her mother, Priscilla, challenged an amendment Lisa Marie made to her revocable trust that removed Priscilla and a former business manager as Trustees and instead named Lisa Marie's daughter, Riley. In making and defending that challenge, intimate details of the battle between Priscilla and Riley were made public, which, according to Riley, is not what Lisa Marie would have wanted.

This may have been avoided if Lisa Marie had named a professional trustee. The benefit of naming a professional trustee in a situation like this, where the possibility of a familial rift is high, is that a professional trustee is an independent, neutral party who may be able rise above the family dynamics. There is an added benefit of familial privacy because, although there is still a chance that a trust matter may end up in Court, and therefore, in public view, there is a lesser chance when a professional is named.

There is also the added benefit of the professional trustee's experience in administering complex trusts and difficult assets. Lisa Marie was the sole heir to her father's estate, which includes Graceland, a difficult type of asset to manage. A professional trustee typically has the knowledge and resources to manage such complex assets. In addition, professional trustees should have the time to devote to trust administration as this is their full-time job and experienced colleagues in their firms or trust departments to assist. Acting as a fiduciary, no matter the size or complexity of the trust or estate assets, does take time and other resources.

Finally, if there is a strong desire to have family members participate in the administration, there is always the option of naming co-fiduciaries so that family members can serve with, and lean on the expertise of, the professional.

The advisability of naming a professional trustee is a topic to discuss with your estate planning attorney, who can guide the decision-making and take into account the complexity of the situation, the family dynamics, and the time likely needed to the administer the estate or trust and its assets.