Privacy Matters: Wills Vs. Living Trusts

Wills Vs. Living Trusts. The terms are used interchangeably but are they really the same thing? The quick answer is definitely not. One affords more privacy in the long run than the other.

Most of us are not celebrities, but we may for one reason or another want to keep our private matters private, even after our death. A prime (and frankly very sad) example of how a living trust would have kept an estate’s resolution more private compared to a will, is the late TV chef Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain whose estate was said to have been worth about $16 Million, was actually worth just $1.21 million when he hanged himself last month, according to recent media reports. His assets, which were left to his 11-year-old daughter, include “$425,000 in ‘cash and savings,’ $35,000 in a brokerage account, $250,000 and ‘personal property,’ and $500,000 in ‘intangible property including royalties and residuals,’” according to court papers as reported by The New York Post. Additional details released include specific instructions about the disposition of his frequent flyer miles, as well as personal items such as cars, furniture, books and more. Yes, the reporting is that detailed!

How Your Will Becomes Public

After you compile it with your attorney, your will initially stays private. [We recommend storing it in specific places.] After you pass away, it must be promptly filed with the local probate court. Only at that point, do the contents of your will become public documents, as did Bourdain’s. This is why celebrities’ wills tend to show up in the news so quickly, sometimes mere hours or days after they pass away.

Why a Living Trust Stays Private

As we just explained, all documents that go through probate, including wills, become public record. Living trusts do not go through probate. Therefore, absent some rare exceptions, living trusts are never made a matter of public record. So, a living trust does not get filed with the court, either before or after your death.Why? Because a probate court will not be involved in supervising your trustee [the person you name in the trust document to handle the distribution of the trust assets]. Your trustee simply follows any instructions you wrote and doesn’t need to wait for validation or approval from any source, including a court.

Keeping your private matters private is ultimately a choice left up to each individual and his/her family, but it is nice to know you have choices to protect yourself in case of potential conflict among family members. Sometimes, less information is really better. You can contact me here at Seiter Law for help with your specific situation and we can help make a plan that suits your needs.

Want to learn more about trusts? You can see these posts: