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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Who Is Entitled to See Your Last Will and Testament?

For many people, their plans for their final estate are a private matter that they do not wish to share with other individuals. Therefore, they may be concerned to know that most probate matters are public record in Texas. A matter of public record is open for viewing by any interested person. If you wish your estate to remain private, you might want to speak with a Texas estate-planning attorney about ways you can protect your privacy after your death.

Who Can See My Will?

Your will is the document in your estate that designates who receives your property after your death. Individuals or organizations who receive property from an estate are referred to as heirs. A will also instructs your personal representative whether to sell your assets or divide your assets among your heirs. If the assets are sold, the will instructs your personal representative on how to divide the money among your heirs. 

Therefore, your personal representative must view your will after your death. Many people review their will with their personal representative before their death to ensure the person they choose to administer their estate understands their wishes. If privacy is a concern, you might want to consider hiring an attorney to serve as the administrator of your estate.

Because wills are a matter of public record, anyone can read your will once it is probated. Unless the court seals certain documents, the public may also read documents that are filed in the probate records, such as a list of your assets at the time of your death. There is an exception to this rule. Your personal representative may file an affidavit with the court (Affidavit in Lieu of Inventory) stating that all debts have been paid in full and that all estate beneficiaries have received a copy of the full inventory. Filing of an Affidavit in Lieu of Inventory protects the list of assets from becoming public record.

Are There Ways to Increase Privacy?

There are various trust agreements you can use that avoid the probate process. By transferring your assets to the trust, the assets do not become a part of your estate. The person you appoint as your trustee disposes of the assets after your death according to the terms of the trust agreement. 

However, trusts are complex and may have some unintended consequences in certain situations. Before executing a trust, it is best to speak with an attorney to discuss the pros and cons of a trust and which trust you should utilize to accomplish your goals.

Also, beneficiary designations bypass probate. Life insurance policies, most retirement accounts, some brokerage accounts, and some financial accounts pass directly to the named beneficiary instead of passing through your probate estate. You might also want to discuss various ways to title real estate and other assets that result in the asset passing directly to the joint owner instead of becoming part of your probate estate upon your death.

Contact a Texas Estate-Planning Attorney for Additional Information and Help

If you are concerned about the privacy of your estate, schedule a consult with one of our experienced estate planning lawyers today to discuss ways to protect your privacy, in addition to protecting your property and your heirs.

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