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Las Vegas Estate Planning Law Blog

Will contest leads to litigation over late singer's estate

We talk at some length on our Las Vegas estate planning law blog about the importance of planning ahead, ensuring one's affairs are in order. One reason is that this reduces the likelihood of contests over one's will that need to be resolved in probate court. However, sometimes it becomes necessary to litigate these disputes regardless of how finely crafted the estate plan was.

One recent, high-profile will contest involved the estate of R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass, singer of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and other hits. Pendergrass found out in 2009 that he had colon cancer and died in early 2010 after several months of hospitalization. The total value of his estate has not been disclosed, but it included assets like the singer's royalties from his music.

Shortcomings of conservatorship evident in Kasem saga

Last spring, our Las Vegas estate planning blog discussed the events surrounding radio icon Casey Kasem leading up to his death at the age of 82. Our blog post from June highlighted Kasem's daughter's efforts to win conservatorship of her father after she and her siblings were prevented from seeing their father by his current wife. While the conservatorship was granted, events since that time warrant a follow-up discussion and perhaps a cautionary note about the limitations of conservatorships in estate planning.

After Kasem's wife took the ailing broadcaster from his assisted living facility, the two disappeared for some time. Eventually they were found at the home of a friend living in the northwestern United States. Kasem's daughter was able to use her court-appointed conservatorship to obtain a court order to allow her to visit him along with medical professionals to assess his condition.

How do Las Vegas residents go about changing their wills?

We've talked at some length over the past few weeks about wills. An important estate protection tool, wills have some undeniable benefits as well as some shortcomings with which we hope our Las Vegas readers are becoming more familiar. Before moving on to other topics, however, we want to answer one other important question many readers may have at this point: once you've made up a will, can it be changed? How do you go about changing a will if necessary?

One way to change your will is to add an amendment, or what is known as a codicil. A codicil can be used to either add new provisions to a will or revoke old ones. They do need to meet the same requirements as a standard will in terms of being signed and dated as well as witnessed. Codicils were commonly used back when it was difficult to print up a new will in its entirety, but today they have a tendency to create confusion and may even risk a will contest.

Joan Rivers' will covered personal fortune, condo and dogs

Early this month, comedienne and actress Joan Rivers passed away after complications resulting from a surgical procedure on her throat. In her eighties, Rivers continued working in the entertainment business, and Las Vegas residents are likely familiar with her regular appearances on red carpets and reality shows.

Thanks to all that work, Rivers left behind an estate valued at around $150 million. She also left a will directing how her assets and property should be handled. As we've discussed on our blog in recent weeks, a will is a fundamental tool in estate planning; Rivers not only left a valid will but apparently discussed it with her heirs in advance, another important step in avoiding a will contest.

Electronic, handwritten or oral -- is my will valid?

We discussed last week how important it is to have a talk with your heirs about your estate plan and what to expect in terms of an inheritance. Now that readers are clear on this point, let's talk about some basic steps that Las Vegas residents should understand as they go to create that will. (We should note first, however, that the following is general information and not to be interpreted as specific legal advice.)

First of all, Nevada state law does allow residents to create a handwritten, or "holographic," will. It's not necessary to go online or even fill out an official form. It does have to be signed and dated. It also has to be "attested" by two competent people, meaning that those two people have also signed their names on the will in your presence.

The other "talk" to have with your kids: what's in the will

If you ask any Las Vegas resident what is the one essential piece to have in place as part of an estate plan, chances are most will give you the same answer. We're speaking, of course, of a will. It's such a fundamental document that many may think they can simply "set it and forget it" -- that once they've written up their will, matters will take care of themselves.

If only this were true. There are any number of additional measures Las Vegas residents can take, in addition to preparing a will, that will help serve as the foundation for a strong estate plan. We've talked about a number of these on our blog before. But if there's only one thing done besides drawing up a will, it should be having a conversation with one's heirs about the contents of that will.

Nevada asset protection trusts can protect future generations

We often discuss here on our Las Vegas estate planning law blog the advantages of including a trust in one's estate plan. In fact, in a recent post about actor Robin Williams' estate plan, we mentioned that trusts in general allow trustees flexibility in determining how their wishes will be carried out, as well as safeguarding them from probate. This week we'd like to take a closer look at one type of trust with which local residents may want to become familiar -- the Nevada Asset Protection Trust.

Perhaps the main distinguishing feature of this trust is that it allows the individual setting it up to also be a beneficiary of the trust. It's also an irrevocable trust, intended as a tool for residents who want to protect their assets over the long term. While it cannot be revoked, it also offers virtually airtight protection for the assets within.

Estate planning can be tailored to the needs of any family

Because families can all look different, estate plans can also be different to best fit the needs and circumstances of different families. Some families are blended, some marriages come later in life and some blended families have legally adopted members. Different familial arrangements can present challenges that families will want to account for in an estate plan.

Different circumstances, such as how long the couple has been married and the relationships between parents, children, step children and step parents, may impact estate planning decisions. Fairness may be a primary concern for many couples engaged in estate planning. First, it is important to ensure that the estate plan adequately provides for the surviving spouse in the likely event that one passes before the other. Additional concerns may arise in situations concerning adult children and spouses married later in life who do not share children. A trustee may be useful to help reduce disputes in circumstances when there are children from different marriages.

Actor's children benefit from his thoughtful estate planning

Las Vegas residents have likely heard by now that the Oscar-winning comedian and actor Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide earlier this month. Williams, in his early 60s, was married with three children who range in age from 22 to 31.

We've discussed on our Las Vegas estate planning law blog previously about celebrities who have passed with estate plans inadequate to effectively manage their high-value estates. Even a will exposes one's heirs to the probate process. Williams, however, set up trusts for his children several years ago, along with some interesting conditions regarding how his children would receive the money.

What is probate and how do I manage the process?

We often write on our Las Vegas estate planning law blog about probate. Usually we do so in the context of discussing how to avoid probate through careful estate planning. But for those whose loved ones' estates must go through probate, let's take a few moments to look at just what probate is and what happens during the process. This is just for general information, and is not intended as specific legal advice.

Probate is simply the name for the process in which a court oversees the distribution of a deceased individual's assets. The court will take stock of the property left behind, figure out who is entitled to it and make sure state law is followed in terms of who gets what. There will also be taxes and perhaps lingering debts to pay. If there is a valid will naming an executor, the court will make that appointment formal, otherwise the court will identify someone to serve as the executor.

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