The terms of your Last Will and Testament are usually highly personal and sensitive because it is in your Will that you typically distribute many of your estate assets. As such, you may not want the details of your Will to become public knowledge – even after you are gone. Toward that end, a Vero Beach estate planning attorney at Kulas & Crawford explains whether the details of your Will remain private during probate.
Probate and Your Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that communicates your final wishes pertaining to possessions and dependents. Your Will allows you to make both specific and general gifts. Your Will is also where you will appoint someone to be the Executor of your estate. Your Executor plays a vital role in the probate of your estate after your death. Finally, a Will provides you with the only official opportunity you will have to nominate a Guardian for your minor children in the event one is ever needed after you are gone. Following your death, your estate will likely need to go through the legal process referred to as “probate.” To initiate the probate of your estate your Executor must submit an original copy of your Will along with a certified death certificate. The terms of your Will are ultimately used to determine how any remaining estate assets (after the payment of debts and taxes) are distributed at the end of the probate process. For many people, one of the major drawbacks to using a Last Will and Testament to distribute assets is the lack of privacy. Once your Will is submitted to the court for probate, it becomes public record, meaning anyone can view the details of your Will. If you would prefer to keep the details of the gifts you made private, you might wish to consider using a trust as your primary tool for distributing your estate.
Using a Trust to Keep Your Estate Plan Details Private
During the probate of your estate, the individual you appointed to be the Executor of your estate must identify and categorize all your estate assets. Assets are either probate or non-probate assets because not all assets are required to go through the probate process. Among the assets that are non-probate assets, and therefore bypass the probate of your estate, are assets held by a trust. Because trust assets are non-probate assets, the trust agreement you create is not required to be submitted to the court. Consequently, the terms of that agreement, including the details regarding the distribution of your assets, remain private. Relying on a trust to distribute your estate assets offers additional benefits as well, including planning for the possibility of incapacity and protecting the inheritance of a minor child who cannot inherit directly from your estate. Choosing to use a trust to distribute your estate assets, however, does not mean you no longer need a Will. At a bare minimum you should retain a Pour Over Will as part of your estate plan to ensure that any assets inadvertently left out of the trust make it into the trust at the time of your death.
Contact a Vero Beach Estate Planning Attorney
To learn more, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about your Last Will and Testament, please contact an experienced Vero Beach estate planning attorney at Kulas & Crawford by calling (772) 398-0720 to schedule a consultation.