Do you like your nosy neighbors keeping tabs of your business? Do you want them knowing how much money you left to your kids? Do you want Aunt Fern knowing that you left money to your favorite uncle but not to her? If you leave only a will, it will all be a matter of public record. Your neighbors, your relatives, your co-workers, telemarketers, and even more nefarious individuals can just walk right into your local court house and ask to see your file after you have died. By doing so they can see your will and all the wishes you have expressed in it. In addition, in most states, all the assets controlled by the will must be inventoried and set forth in the file.
A better alternative is to leave your assets in a trust. The assets in the trust are not technically titled in your individual name and avoid probate and, therefore, the public scrutiny of prying eyes.
Here are some examples of what you can discover just from a trip to the court house, all of it public information:
- Musician Jerry Garcia left his guitars to their maker, Douglas Erwin. He left 10% of his estate to his brother, Clifford. The assets he left to his daughters were in trust until they reached age 21.
- Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger left a short handwritten will that left 1/3 to his daughter and 2/3 to his son.
- Benjamin Franklin left his lands in Nova Scotia to his son and his houses in Philadelphia to his daughter. He gave his picture of the King of France to his daughter, Sarah, asking that she not remove the jewels from the frame. He left money to facilitate the freeing of his son-in-law’s slave.
- Marilyn Monroe left her clothing and personal effects and a significant portion of her estate to Lee Strasberg, the founder of the famous acting school in Hollywood.
- President Calvin Coolidge disinherited his son.
- John F. Kennedy, Jr. gave the carved whale ivory scrimshaw set he inherited from his father to his nephew, John Schlossberg.
- David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, left almost everything he had left at his death to a charitable foundation.
- President Richard Nixon left his “personal diaries” including tapes, notes, etc., to his daughters. If his daughters did not survive him, he left explicit instructions that everything should be destroyed.
There are many reasons to keep your wishes and your affairs private after your death. Information about your wealth and to whom you are leaving it could leave the recipients vulnerable to unscrupulous people, from benign salespeople trying to sell a product to con artists trying to prey on the grieving. Revelations of whom you have chosen to benefit may offend others who were not preferred.
Your wishes do not have to become common knowledge. An estate planning attorney can help you keep your private life just that: private.
Ronald “Chip” Morrison, Jr. is a Board-Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Administration by Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization and a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. He has been engaged in Louisiana trusts and estate law for the last 18 years. To learn more about how you can achieve your estate planning goals, please call (504) 831-2348 or visit our website at www.morrisonlawplc.com.