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Las Vegas Estate Planning Law Blog

Estate tax basics from the IRS

Many Las Vegas residents have likely begun to gather their paperwork and other records in preparation for filing their 2014 federal and state income tax returns. Some who are also in the estate planning process may be hearing the term "estate tax" mentioned from time to time. Let's take a look at some estate tax fundamentals from the IRS website that can help our readers understand what this tax is and how to figure out whether it might apply in a particular case.

When someone passes away, everything that person owns must be accounted for and could be subject to a tax on the right to transfer it. This is what we mean by the term estate tax. A few important points to take into consideration in this regard: for one thing, receipts, proofs of purchase and similar documentation are not necessary to establish the value of the items or property. Property valuation is based on current fair market value. (Note that this could be much higher or much lower than the value at the time of acquisition.)

Why Las Vegas residents want to avoid probate if possible

Las Vegas residents who read stories like our last post about families breaking down over inheritance disputes may, unfortunately, begin to experience some feelings of futility. Why bother with estate planning at all, some may ask -- why not just leave it all up to probate court to sort out? As a professional estate planning firm, allow us to disabuse readers of the notion that the probate system is a better alternative.

For one thing, probate actually requires a degree of cooperation among the deceased's family members. Even if everyone does get along and agree on what needs to be done, chances are they aren't all here in Las Vegas. Traveling across the country for probate hearings can make it difficult to resolve matters quickly, and miscommunication among scattered relatives can lead to further delay and frustration.

Protecting one's estate against a future divorce

Last week's entry here on our Las Vegas estate planning law blog may have sent up some red flags for our readers. In particular we discussed a scenario in which an inheritance, intended to pass to a daughter and on to a granddaughter, instead left that granddaughter out in the cold when her mother died and her father remarried. Questions about second marriages and blended families are not uncommon in estate planning, so let's take a look at the issue of inheritance and divorce in this follow-up post (intended as general information only, not specific legal advice).

The important point to underscore is that an inheritance is, legally speaking, considered the property of the individual bequeathing it. Unlike marital property, it's not considered something that would be divided or considered in a divorce because it's not the property of the divorcing partners -- unless it is commingled. If the partners deposit the inheritance into a joint account and each use it for shared expenses, for example, it could be argued that it has become marital property and subject to property division.

What's in a word? In one's will, potentially everything

Many regular readers of our Las Vegas estate planning law blog will by now have done the right thing and taken concrete steps towards ensuring their wishes and their assets are protected after their death. At the very least, a will should be drafted. But is that will clear enough that it will hold its own against a potential will contest? A few words or phrases can make all the difference.

Take, for example, a will that leaves the testator's antiques to one of his or her children. What, the children may later argue, is considered an antique? Does it include heirloom clothing and jewelry? Does it include furniture? What about a valuable vintage record collection? If the will does not specify, any of these assets could lead to heated litigation between heirs.

What are my Las Vegas estate planning options?

When it comes to Las Vegas, Nevada, estate planning, there are numerous options available to people. Those interested in estate planning may asked themselves what is involved in the process, what they need to do, if there is an income threshold and, in general, what options they have. These are all fair questions and the staff at the law offices of Greene Roberts & Rasmussen will be more than happy to discuss estate planning options with you.

Generally, those thinking of estate planning are thinking of the future and exploring ways to transfer their assets to their loved ones after they have passed on. For some, this may be an uncomfortable topic to think about. But, staff at Greene Robert & Rasmussen will sit down with prospective clients to discuss options, provide personalized services and help draft a comprehensive estate plan, which will work specifically for your situation.

How do I become the legal guardian of an elder relative?

Many Las Vegas residents will be seeing relatives over the holidays. When we don't see extended family members for a long time, we may find when we do see them that elder relatives are beginning to have a hard time taking care of themselves. Sometimes the conversations around the holidays involve questions over what can be done to protect both the health and the finances of elder relatives moving into the New Year.

Guardianships are one common way to handle this situation. The Clark County Courts process petitions for guardianships. Depending on the type of guardianship sought, guardians may bear legal responsibility medical and personal decisions, financial decisions or both on behalf of the proposed ward (that is to say, the person over whom one seeks to become guardian).

Some estate planning lessons from celebrity estates in 2014

With a scant few weeks left in 2014, many Las Vegas residents are reflecting on the past year's highs and lows. In a town famous for its entertainment business, we'll naturally think back on beloved celebrities we lost in 2014. Besides their legacies in film, music, television and literature, media coverage surrounding many deceased celebrities' estates in 2014 also left fans with some potentially valuable estate planning lessons.

Novelist Tom Clancy actually passed away in late 2013, but his estate continues to be in dispute. While he did leave behind an estate plan, the documents were ambiguous about who should bear the $16 million tax burden on his $82 million estate: his widow argues that his children from a previous marriage should be responsible for it, while they claim she should pay half. The takeaway here for our readers is that estate planning language needs to be drafted clearly in order to avoid disputes, which can be particularly common in families with multiple marriages.

Can a trust help care for Nevadans with special needs?

Readers of our Las Vegas estate planning law blog are likely familiar with the basic concept of a trust. Essentially, a trust is a situation in which one individual -- the trustee -- manages property or assets on behalf of another individual -- the beneficiary. We commonly discuss ways in which trusts can be utilized in an estate plan to efficiently distribute the beneficiary's assets after his or her death. However, there are other types of trusts designed to accomplish other functions that our readers may want to consider.

Take, for example, the special needs trust. This is a trust designed to support the needs of a Nevada resident who, due to physical or mental disability, cannot make financial decisions for him or herself. This can pose particular challenges because these individuals may be receiving (or entitled to receive) government benefits like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, housing subsidies and similar forms of assistance. A special needs trust can help ensure that sudden unforeseen changes do not jeopardize these benefits.

Restaurant heirs challenge stepmother's actions as trustee

Our readers are likely familiar with the Benihana restaurant chain; There are locations in Las Vegas and all over the world. The founder of the business, Rocky Aoki, left $50 million to his two children when he died in 2008. However, a series of contests between the children and Aoki's widow continues to this day.

The disputes were thought to be resolved last spring, when a court awarded the money to the children. The only condition was that they could not receive their inheritance until they turned 45. In the meantime, their stepmother -- as the trustee of the fund in which their inheritances reside -- retains control.

What to expect in an IRS audit

We've been discussing issues regarding estate tax planning and administration in recent weeks. Our Las Vegas readers should know that there are several strategies they can take which, particularly when coordinated with a legal professional, can help minimize their tax liability if not avoid any altogether.

But even those who do everything right may come under scrutiny from the IRS. It's a fact of life that some Las Vegas residents will need to navigate an IRS audit in conjunction with estate administration. So let's take a quick look at what one can realistically expect during this process.

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