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What Stays Private (and What Doesn’t!) with Estate Planning

This modern, data-driven world offers little in the way of privacy, and yet most folks still assume their most intimate affairs won’t wander into the public domain. This is a risky assumption and yet the reason might surprise you.

It’s not just data-hungry algorithms that threaten the privacy of your personal information, but straightforward legislation that has been around far longer than the internet and all of its invasive tag-alongs.

When you die, the administration of your estate is subject to court oversight. Probate court ensures that your estate executor properly carries out the terms set in your last will and testament. However important this may be to protecting your life’s work, it nevertheless means that anyone can look into who was (and wasn’t) included in your estate planning. Court proceedings are a matter of public record, after all.

While it’s easy to think that no one would be so unconscionable as to go digging into the final wishes of the dead, countless notable cases prove otherwise. When country singer Naomi Judd died tragically by suicide, the media gushed over the contents of her will-based estate plan.

“Naomi Judd’s final will and testament reportedly has some obvious benefactors missing from its pages: the late country singer’s daughters Wynonna and Ashley Judd,” exclaimed one prominent news source.

“Country music singer Naomi Judd left daughters Wynonna and Ashley out of her will, according to the document,” reported another.

Despite the artist dying as a consequence of a life-long struggle with mental health, the information media lost no sleep over publicly scrutinizing her final wishes. Middle school bullies rarely stoop so low.

“That’s awful but Judd was a celebrity,” you might say and yet it’s not only the rich and famous that need to worry about privacy in their estate planning.

You might have a nosy neighbor or relative you would prefer didn’t know how you chose to parcel out your life’s work. You might have security concerns related to who got what. You might simply not like the idea of your last wishes being available for anyone to view. Whatever the worry, a trust-based estate plan is likely the solution.

When you distribute your assets using a living trust instead of a traditional will, you cut probate court out of the process.

Trust documents do not need to be filed with a court which means the distribution of assets to beneficiaries can be carried out away from prying eyes.

When you draft a trust, you designate a trustee who distributes your assets according to the terms of your trust (just as an executor would do with a will) and yet benefits from being able to do so without court oversight. This protects your affairs from malicious actors who would turn your affairs into the subject of public gossip or worse.

To learn more about protecting your personal information or any other matter related to estate planning, do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Firm of Christopher W. Dumm either by calling 417-623-2062 or using the contact form on our website.


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