Most people think of probate (the process of collecting, managing, and distributing a deceased person’s money and property) as a private process. Wills are filed at the courthouse, and therefore probated estates become a matter of public record and can be seen by everyone. That means your nosy neighbor Nellie can simply go down to the courthouse or hop online and find out about your probate. Really.
Who Can Access These Public Records?
After a death, most states, including Texas, 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 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 sensitive personal 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. Since a will that is filed with the probate court becomes a public record, those believing they have an interest (whether valid or invalid) can access the document and challenge the will. This can result in added costs and time defending the will from what could amount to a frivolous claim.
Avoid the Public 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 intrusions by busybodies and predators by creating a trust. While some state laws require a total or partial disclosure of information regarding the trust to beneficiaries, it is still the best way to keep your legal affairs private. Did you hear that, Nellie?
Give Us a Call
Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area. For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.