You can't keep probate private.Many people feel a great sense of accomplishment and peace of mind after they create a last will and testament. They feel secure in the knowledge that their loved ones will be taken care of after their passing, but what they may not realize is that will-based estate plans have to go through the New York probate process—giving members of the public access to private financial and family information.

Anyone Can See Your Will If it Is a Public Court Record

Before the written instructions in your will can be carried out, your last will and testament will have to be filed with the local probate court. Once your will and related documents are filed, they become public court records—meaning anyone can go down to the local probate court and ask to see them. This includes your family members, but also your neighbors, debt collectors, disinherited heirs, and anyone else who requests access.

Any interested party can see the private and personal information included in these documents, such as:

  • What you owned. Your will contains a listing of everything of value in your estate, including your personal effects (such as jewelry, antiques, or furniture), houses, real estate, investments, and business interests.
  • Who you owed. Your probate documents will show a full listing of any outstanding debts to your creditors (such as credit card companies, lenders, or medical providers).
  • Who stands to inherit your estate. Strangers can see the identities of any heirs who stand to inherit property included in probate, including beneficiary names and addresses.
  • Who your executor is. Members of the public will be able to see the name and address of the person(s) in charge of carrying out the terms and conditions of your will.

Free guide to understanding the probate process in New York

If protecting your family’s personal and financial reputation is a concern of yours, then you should consider making a revocable living trust the governing document of your estate plan. A trust-based estate plan does not need to be filed with the local probate court—allowing your final wishes, net worth, debts, and other personal matters to stay private. Contact our experienced estate planning attorneys today through our online form to learn more in your initial consultation.

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