Estate planning attorneys and clients alike are interested in the lives of the famous. But, there is one thing that estate planning attorneys know that their clients probably do not: the type of estate plan you have dictates how much information will be available about your affairs to the general public after your death.
If a client dies with a Will, it is very easy to find out all about their assets and dispositive wishes. For example, George Washington’s Will is available to anyone who walks into the Fairfax County, Virginia, courthouse. Washington’s Will is even available online.
And it is not just the Wills of historical or political figures that are available. Except in the rare instance of a local law to the contrary, the Will of every person (who died with one admitted to probate) is available for inspection in the locale in which they resided at death. The assets controlled by the Will are inventoried and that inventory is also a public record.
With a trust, the terms are private. The assets are private. Some clients may not care about costs or delays after death. However, many of those will care about the privacy.
Recently, the privacy of differing plans was illustrated by the deaths of Lauren Bacall and Joan Rivers. Bacall’s estate plan utilized a Will as the primary vehicle while Rivers’ plan utilized a Trust as the primary vehicle. While the details of Rivers’ plan and the extent of her assets are not available because it utilized a Trust-based estate plan, Bacall’s plan and assets are laid bare for all to see. Lauren Bacall utilized a Will-based estate plan. Her assets will be inventoried and that inventory, along with her Will, will be available in the “Surrogate’s Court” in Manhattan, where she lived.
While some clients may not care about privacy, others would be startled to think that a listing of their assets would be available to their nosy neighbors, distant relatives, and anyone trolling through public records.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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