These days, being wealthy can make you a target. Most people that have accumulated a significant amount of property donít want it publicized in the local newspaper for their neighbors, colleagues, and friends to read. In some situations, it can be very problematic for an individual when his peers, family members or friends learn he has received a large inheritance.But if a person receives his inheritance through a will or intestate succession, there is little he can do to protect his privacy. With many court records now being published on the Internet, the opportunity for a stranger to gain access to sensitive personal and financial information about your family and your estate is even greater.
When most of us think about leaving a substantial inheritance to a child, grandchild, or other loved one in our will, we tend to focus on how the inheritance will make their life better, not the problems it will create. Nevertheless, if you leave your estate to your heirs through a will or die without a will, known as dying intestate, the details of your estate become public record when they pass through probate. You might be surprised by the type of information anyone can get about your estate, and therefore your entire family, from the probate court.
By passing property to your heirs through a living trust, you can limit the amount of information that becomes public about you, your spouse or partner, your estate, your children, your grandchildren, and other family members or beneficiaries. Because information that becomes public is now also available to people in other countries via the Internet, the privacy protections afforded by a living trust are especially relevant today.
Living Trusts and Privacy
The records available to the public from a probate court proceeding vary significantly from state to state. In many states, a member of the public can get the following types of information about an estate from probate court records:
a. the contents of the will and any codicils or amendments;
b. the name and address of the executor or personal representative of the estate;
c. a list of the heirs or devisees of the deceased, which may include the names and addresses of children, grandchildren, spouse, partner or parents of the deceased;
d. an inventory of personal property, vehicles, stocks, bonds, real estate, business interests, and other assets of the deceased;
e. information about any will disputes among the deceased personís heirs;
f. a record of the items of property distributed to the heirs and the value of such items; and
g. a list of the deceased person's creditors and the amount of debts owed, which may reveal the family's financial status.
If you want to pass real estate, business interests, stocks, bonds, vehicles, jewelry, collectibles, or other personal property to your beneficiaries without having the property transfer become part of probate court records, you should create an estate plan designed to avoid the probate process entirely. There are several steps you can take to pass your estate outside of probate. These steps include naming pay on death and transfer on death beneficiary designations to your bank accounts and investments, changing how you hold title to property, and making a living trust.
To read more about the benefits of making a living trust part of your estate plan, see Living Trusts.