PROBATE IS DANGEROUSLY PUBLIC

Like Bob Jr. from our earlier post, most people are shocked to learn that probate offers the family no privacy whatsoever. Literally, anyone can go to any court in America, walk up to the probate filing window, and say, “I’d like to see such and such file number.” The clerk will turn over a file that will include the probate petition and lots of other documents containing the names and addresses of executors, beneficiaries, and anyone else involved, adults and minors alike. The date of the inheritance and the amount of the inheritance is a matter of public record, along with the specific value of all assets in the estate and all of its debts.

Right there, for anyone to see.

Any scam artist who wants to troll court records and take advantage of people who have just inherited money could do no better than start at the probate filing window. Creditors of a beneficiary may subscribe to a data service and say, “Hey, I’m owed $100,000 by Bob Jr. Tell me whenever his name pops up in court records. This same creditor may show up at the probate hearing and say, “Don’t give the money to this heir, give it to me.” I have seen it happen.

Conservatorship processes for adults offer limited privacy. If you get Alzheimer’s disease, and have not made proper prior arrangements, your conservatorship hearing will become a matter of public record. The medical portion of your file can remain “sealed,” but family ties and the amounts of money spent become a matter of public record. This means that all of your personal details, from the names of your relatives to a second degree of kinship to your financial records, will be available to anyone who inquires about them. If $118.36 was spent for adult diapers at Walgreens three years ago, anyone can find out.

ENTER THE LIVING TRUST

I have left out a lot of details about the actual processes of probate courts. Why? Because solid advice for navigating probate requires a whole other book, and an attorney.

This book has a different job. This book exists to keep heirs out of probate court altogether. Consider that statement your mission, whether you are planning your own succession or helping your parents plan theirs. Regardless of your financial situation, your goal should be to make your wishes so clear that no judge has to clarify them. Then, structure your estate so it can be passed on without a hearing.

How can you avoid the terrible hassle of probates and guardian processes? The arguments? The uncertainty? The delays?

Do a good estate plan with its foundation in a living trust. For more information on how to begin, contact a licensed attorney on our team today.

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