Living trusts offer more privacy than wills do.
One of the benefits of using a living trust, rather than a will, is that it provides your family with more privacy.
How Wills Become Public
You can keep all your estate planning documentation private as long as you’re still living. After you create your will, for instance, you can and need to keep it in a safe location (such as a fireproof safe, safety deposit box); you are not required to file it with your local court or other government agency.
Following a death, nevertheless, most states require that the person that has possession of the deceased individual’s will must swiftly file it with their local probate court. This applies even when there is not going to be any legal proceedings through probate court. The individual that has the will but purposely declines to file it most likely is going to be fined by the court.
After a will gets filed, it becomes a matter of public record, open to anybody that wants to view it. Most people aren’t interested in a lot of ordinary people’s wills, obviously, but a family member or prying acquaintance might be, and some people simply don’t like the notion that anybody could see how they decide to leave their worldly possessions.
Why Trusts Stay Private
A living trust is never required to be filed with a court, either prior to or following your passing. The probate court is not involved in overseeing your trustee, the individual you appoint in your trust document to manage the allocation of your trust assets. The trustee merely follows the instructions you declared in your trust document, without getting consent or permission from the court.
What You Cannot Keep Private
From time to time, details of how you planned to leave your property cannot be kept completely private—whether you use a will or a living trust to manage your affairs.
- Conditions of the trust, if state law requires disclosure to family members. A lot of states require that should you leave a living trust, the trustee, following your passing away, is required to give a copy to the beneficiaries (individuals that inherit trust property) should they request one. In many states, beneficiaries only are allowed to view the part of the trust that involves them—but in others, they are allowed to view the whole document, meaning that one beneficiary can see what the other beneficiaries are inheriting, also. And in some states, the trustee is required to notify certain close family members—typically defined as the individuals that would inherit under state law lacking a will—concerning the trust following your passing and give them a copy should they request one.
- Ownership of real estate. People that own real estate is always a matter of public record. Anybody can find a particular lot of real estate through the local land records office (usually referred to as the registry of deeds or county recorder, subject to where you reside) and find out who the owner is. (Usually, additional details are also available, like the amount of property taxes paid annually.) So after your real estate has been passed to the individuals that inherits it, it is going to be a matter of public record.
- Lawsuits. When you leave a living trust and a discontented family member sues over your estate, the trust document is most likely going to turn out to be part of the public record of the lawsuit. These types of suits are uncommon, nevertheless, and typically happens only when descendants that are anticipating an inheritance are left with zero or just about zero. So unless you believe someone has reason to profoundly disagree to your estate plan, you probably don’t need to be concerned with a court battle following your passing.
Mary Randolph, J. D. (2020, August 17). Is a living trust public? www.nolo.com. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/is-living-trust-public.html
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