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Las Vegas Estate Planning Law Blog

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.

How can I minimize my estate tax liability in 2015?

We explained in last week's post here on our Las Vegas estate planning law blog that the federal estate tax exemption is going up to $5.43 million in 2015. We explained the importance of taking this into account in order to avoid a tax penalty on one's estate of as high as 40 percent, but our readers may be wondering just what one can do to avoid it. While a legal professional should be consulted for specific tax advice, following are some general tips.

We briefly discussed last week how annual gifts of under $14,000 are one way to reduce one's taxable estate. A married couple could each give $14,000 to the same child or grandchild and still avoid incurring gift tax penalties; that's $28,000 per year. And such gifts can be given to any number of recipients -- as long as no gift exceeds $14,000.

2015 federal estate tax, gift tax information now available

Our Las Vegas readers will be interested to learn about an important announcement made by the IRS late last month. The agency released the details of the estate and gift tax limits for 2015.

Before we look at the limits themselves, let's recap just what these rules mean. The federal estate tax is, simply, a tax on the assets, property, etc. that one leaves behind to one's heirs after death. It doesn't apply to every estate, only those valued above a certain threshold. Anything valued below that threshold is exempt from the federal estate tax. That's why the threshold is referred to as the federal estate tax exemption.

Choosing between a testamentary trust and a living trust

We've often written about estate planning tools here on our blog in fairly broad terms. Wills, trusts and similar documents can be more involved, however, with different types of provisions and technicalities coming into play in different situations. This week, let's take a closer look at two different categories of trusts available to Las Vegas residents: the testamentary trust and the living trust.

First, just to review, a trust is a tool for transferring property or assets from one person (the trustor) to another (the beneficiary). However, the transfer is not direct; property legally passes from the trustor into the trust, which is managed by a trustee on the beneficiary's behalf. Those elements, at least, are common to the different types of trusts, but the timing of the transfer is what differentiates them.

Can anyone pursue a will contest in Las Vegas?

Last week's post here on our Las Vegas estate planning law blog may have caused some anxiety for our readers. No one likes to think about the possibility that a carefully-crafted and valid will could be the subject of a will contest and even litigation. And fortunately, probate law does place significant limitations on just who can and cannot challenge a will in court.

The most fundamental prerequisite is that someone who wants to dispute a will must have what is called "standing" to do so. That means that the person must either be named in the will or else be affected one way or the other (either gaining or losing an inheritance) by the outcome of the contest. Ultimately, this prevents people who have strong opinions about a will but who aren't impacted by its provisions from getting legally involved.

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.

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