Most people think of probate as a private process. However, since wills are filed at the courthouse, probated estates become a matter of public record. That means your nosey neighbor Nellie can simply go down to the courthouse or hop online and find out about your probate. Really.
It's Not Just Nellie That Has Access...
After a death, most states require that whoever has possession of the deceased person’s will must file it with the probate court – even if there won’t be any probate court proceedings. While Nellie may be an annoyance and have no other reason to view the information other than curiosity, others can get access to your public records and make your beneficiaries’ lives miserable, such as:
- Financial predators. While today's digital world is convenient, it's also dangerous. Financial predators find ways to access information online. Since courts are part of a bureaucratic process that often moves slower than a glacier, months can elapse before you (or the court) realizes that your beneficiaries have been swindled.
- Charities. Even the most well-meaning charities can become an annoyance when money is considered “up for grabs.” This is especially true in an estate situation when those inheriting assets want to do the right thing and honor their loved one.
- Will challengers. Public record documents such as probate provide those with an interest (whether valid or invalid) to challenge the will. This can equate to added costs and time defending the will.
Avoid the “Nosey Nellie” Factor with A Trust
Trusts are never filed with a court, either before or after your death. Probate courts are not involved in supervising your trust administration. So, you can avoid busy bodies and predators by creating a trust. While some state laws require a total, or partial, disclosure of the trust to beneficiaries, it is still the best way to keep your legal affairs private. Did you hear that, Nellie?