Privacy Matters: What Happens in Your Estate Plan Can Stay in Your Estate Plan

What do you think when you come across news about the value of a celebrity’s estate? When the value of real estate they own(ed) is reported publicly? Or when there is a fight over assets among heirs? You may not associate such news with your own estate plan, but you may have made the same choices that will leave a great deal of personal and financial information available for public consumption.

This is why deciding whether to use a will or a trust for passing on your estate is important. If you are interested in keeping your family and financial matters away from prying eyes, you need to consider how a trust can help you meet this goal. Understanding the differences between a will and a trust will make this clear.

Through a will you identify who should receive your assets after your passing. You also nominate someone to carry out your wishes on your behalf. Of key importance, however, is that the person you nominate cannot act without approval from the local probate court. This requires filing your will with the court and having a public hearing on the matter. The probate file, which also includes everything filed by other people with a claim in the matter, becomes a public court record.

Is it concerning that anyone who wants can see your probate file? Consider this: It will reveal what you owned, to whom you owed money, and how you wanted your assets to be distributed. Few of us talk completely freely about these matters with our family; most of us would probably avoid talking about them altogether with family members we disinherit, our nosy neighbors, bill collectors, or the press.

To avoid having your estate details become a public record, talk to a qualified estate planning attorney about using a trust as the document at the heart of your estate planning. A revocable living trust is a private contract that you create—typically naming yourself (or you and your spouse) as the trustee and making yourself (or jointly with your spouse) the beneficiary. During your lifetime you, as the trustee, control trust property and make decisions about how to use that property. To insure your assets are treated as trust property, it is important to have assets properly titled in the name of the trust. In the event you become incapacitated or unable to manage the trust, the trust document names someone to act on your behalf. After you pass away, the person you have named in the trust will administer the trust according to its terms. Using a trust and making sure your assets are properly titled gives you control and privacy. Since the trust is a contract, the trustee’s duties can be carried out without filing the documents in probate court.

Kling Law Offices can help by designing an estate plan that meets your goals and desires, including maintaining your privacy—we believe your estate plan should help give you the peace of mind you deserve. Contact our office to discuss your estate planning needs.