Is a Will Public Information?

December 14, 2016

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If you are beginning the process of planning your Will, you may be curious who will be able to access it. Wills often contain sensitive or delicate information, so you may be concerned that your family or others can see who is getting what. While the contents of a Will can be kept private during your lifetime, after your death a Will admitted for probate becomes a public document and anyone can see the contents.

Drafting a Will

The process of writing a Will can be complicated and many things need to be taken into consideration. You want to make sure that your loved ones are cared for in the event of your death; you want to minimize taxes; and you may want to either ensure that your assets pass to them quickly without probate, or are kept trust until a beneficiary is a certain age or until a certain event occurs—or even, in special cases, for the rest of their lives. All this information can be kept private during your lifetime—an attorney is not permitted to disclose the contents of a Will to anyone but the testator, unless given permission. (While a Will must be witnessed, the witnesses do not need to see the Will, or read any part of it in order to sign as a witness.) The Will remains private until an individual’s death, often kept in the attorney’s possession, in a safe or lockbox, or on file with the Register of Wills. Of course, you are always free to give a copy of your Will to anyone you choose.

Probate

Once an individual dies, however, their Will is submitted by the Personal Representative or executor for Probate. As soon as the probate petition is filed, the Will becomes a document of the court, and is available to anyone who might be interested or just nosy. If privacy is a concern, a better option might be a Trust. Because a Trust does not need to be submitted for probate, it does not automatically becomes a public document. In addition, the probate process can be lengthy and expensive. Although a Trust is not the right option for everyone, if you have sufficient assets that cannot be passed directly to your heirs without going through probate, or you are concerned about privacy issues, you might want to consider a Trust.

If you are beginning to think about Estate Planning and are concerned about privacy or other issues, speak with us at DK Rus today. We can help you understand the pros and cons of Wills vs Trusts, ways to avoid or mitigate probate and taxes, and the best methods for storing your documents. Planning your estate does not have to be stressful, and having your affairs in order can save you stress and worry in the future, while ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of. Give us a call at DK Rus today if you are ready to start your estate planning.

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