After filing a request with the probate judge, the family of the late Joe Paterno was able to get his will sealed and thus unavailable to the public. The family recently reversed that course and gave up their quest to keep his will private. Why did they switch course? Most likely because it is a will and therefore must be filed in probate court for the court’s approval before any assets can be distributed. When a will is filed in probate court it becomes a matter of public record. Michigan residents may be interested to know that Paterno’s will did not contain anything out of the ordinary.
So if you want privacy, your best option is to consider a living trust, also known as a revocable trust instead of or in addition to a will. A living trust is not a public document because it does not need to be approved by a probate court. There are indeed uses for a will, such as appointing a guardian for your child however a living trust can transfer property or assets upon your death just like a will, only with more privacy.
A will only takes effect upon your death, whereas a living trust can be used to manage your assets while you are alive and can protect those assets if you become incapacitated and unable to make certain decisions on your own behalf. In certain states, a living trust can be used to avoid the expense and trouble of the probate process, which varies by state. In states that allow you to avoid probate with a living trust you are able to keep your identity and estate’s net worth and your beneficiaries private.
If you own property in another state, the distribution of that property is handled in that state, so putting that property into a living trust can dictate the transfer of that property without necessitating the need for probate. A Michigan estate planning attorney can help you determine what the best strategies are to accomplish your estate planning goals and ensure a smooth and private transfer of property, if that is what you want.
Source: Forbes, “Joe Paterno’s Family Gives Up Trying To Keep His Will Secret,” Deborah L. Jacobs, June 19, 2012