How to Keep Your Estate Plans Private.
Did you know that having a Will does not mean that it will not become public record? In fact, in the state of Florida, Wills are still subject to probate and all of the contents of your Will become public record, available for anyone to see. Many families are hesitant to discuss financial affairs together. Parents do not necessarily want their children to know how much or exactly what they have. Some do not want their loved ones to know exactly how they plan to dispose of their assets when they die. However, someone needs to know where the estate planning documents are located and/or how to access those documents when they are needed. All too often it is the lack of information and knowledge not disclosed by the decedent that leaves a very trying and difficult estate planning process for their surviving loved ones.
You might want to consider that the people who are named to various roles in your planning know that they have been named. For instance, if Child A knows that you would like him to serve as your Executor but after learning what the job entails, he/she decides they do not want the job, it is far better to learn that while you are alive and well so that now you can make alternative plans.
While someone is alive, there is little to be gained from sharing the contents of a Will with other family members. There can easily be resentment caused by plans to give certain items of personal property to specific individuals or to bequeath different portions of one’s estate to different children or other relatives. Also, once family members know how someone plans to dispose of their assets, there can be additional resentment caused if those plans are changed later.
But sooner or later a Will can no longer be kept private. That is because eventually a testator dies, and their estate must be formally settled. In order for the Executor named in the Will to become the Executor, the Will must be filed with the probate court. Once that Will is filed with the probate court, it is part of the public record. In many states, including Florida, even if a decedent leaves no assets that need to be formally probated, by statute the Will still needs to be submitted to the Probate Court.
For those who value privacy and wish to keep their estate planning a family affair, other estate planning can ensure that the Will is only a small part of the overall picture of one’s estate planning. A pour-over Will provides that any assets in an individual’s name when they die should be distributed to a trust at the conclusion of the probate process. If most of the decedent’s assets were already funded into a trust before they died, then there may be very little, or nothing left in the probate estate.
For the most part, trust planning can be kept private. Unlike a Will where the document becomes part of the public record and must be furnished to interested parties, a trust agreement with some exceptions need not be filed with the probate court. That is one of the many advantages to using trusts in your planning. A Trustee of course must administer the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries in adherence to all of the instructions and requirements in the trust, so the Trustee is privy to what is in your Trust.
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