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Reasons to Keep Your Estate Planning Private

More than two-thirds of Americans don’t have a will or estate plan in place for the distribution of their assets upon their death. Although those who earn more than $80,000 per year are the most likely to have an estate plan, the majority of high-income earners do not yet have a will or trust set up for the distribution of their assets. When creating this type of plan, working with an estate planning lawyer will help ensure that your wishes are adhered to and your personal matters stay private.

Wills Become Public Knowledge

If you choose to create a will, the primary questions you answer involve who receives your personal effects, cash, investments, real estate and business holdings. You will also make a statement about who will be in charge of executing the plan you put in place. This person, the executor, is responsible for the disbursement of your assets. However, many people overlook the fact that wills must be filed with the probate court. Once those documents are filed, they become public record. Anyone can go to the courthouse and ask to see a copy. This means that any member of the public, including journalists, your long-lost fourth cousin once-removed or the nosy neighbors can find out who gets what in your will.

Why Is It Bad for a Will to Become Public Knowledge?

The court filing reveals the sum of your assets. It states what you owned, its value and its location. It also has statements of who will inherit your belongings and assets. If you owe anyone money upon your death, your last will and testament could include the details. Each heir’s contact information, including their name and address, will be made public. The executor’s name and address will also be included. Bill collectors, con artists, ex-spouses and others will all have access to this information. When these details become public, they may lead to:

  • Unwanted contact from disinherited heirs
  • Arguing among family members
  • Con artists contacting your heirs
  • Busybodies spreading personal information
  • Neighbors and complete strangers learning about your personal financial situation

The way to avoid those problems is to use a trust instead of a will. Trusts don’t become public knowledge.

Maintain Privacy While Still Alive

While you’re alive, a revocable trust allows you to create a private contract as the maker and trustee. You are the beneficiary while still alive. You have the authority to make all decisions about the trust’s assets. If you become incapable of making decisions, the disability trustee that you have named takes over the duties of spending and making investment decisions. After your death, the administrative trustee, who can be the same person as the disability trustee or someone else, distributes the remainder of your assets to each of the beneficiaries you named in the trust.

How Trusts Maintain Your Privacy

A trust keeps your assets and wishes private while you’re alive, when you’re alive but incapacitated and after your death. There is no need for the administrator or trustee to file the document with the probate court. Even if a neighbor or extended family member finds out that you have a trust, they are not entitled to a copy of it.

Why Privacy Benefits You Now and After Your Death

By keeping your asset amounts and types private, you may avoid unwanted questions and arguments from family members who won’t receive any of your assets after your passing. After your death, your heirs won’t have to worry about being pestered or potentially conned by people who find out they received a large inheritance.

Working with an estate planning lawyer may help you avoid unwanted publicity or attention on your family after your passing. To schedule a consultation with The Knee Law Firm, contact our Hackensack office at 201-996-1200. You may also complete our online contact form here, and we will reach out to you to schedule a consultation.