Most local residents cherish their privacy. That extends to privacy in sensitive matters like estate planning. When considering estate planning, the first thing that comes to mind for many is the traditional will. Our New York estate planning lawyers frequently explain how there are now many more tools beyond wills to properly tailor these affairs. Trusts are often far-superior ways to pass on assets and protect loved ones down the road. One of the many benefits that a trust can provide is privacy. Wills do not provide that privacy.
Even though wills contain private, sometimes sensitive information, at a certain point they become public records, open to view to anyone interested. A will must be filed with the court during the probate process to settle affairs following a death. The court will eventually file the will in its records, where it becomes available to the public. This means that anyone can usually access the documents at a courthouse, often having the ability to make their own copy of the material.
Joe Paterno’s Will Sealed
The public nature of wills is the general rule; however, there are a few exceptions. For example, a recent report this week explained how former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s last will and testament was ordered permanently sealed from public view. The request for permanent seal was made by the family’s attorney and approved by the judge. A spokesman for the family noted that the request was made to provide “a measure of privacy.”
Paterno’s will entered the probate process in early April–he died of lung cancer in January.
The family spokesman claimed that the measure was “not an unusual request for high-profile individuals.” However, observers have noted that sealing wills is, in fact, very unusual. An examination of local records indicates it was the only will sealed in the county in the last year and a half. Many families have reasons to keep their affairs confidential, but almost no one else receives the same treatment. Simply a wish for privacy is usually never sufficient for these records to be sealed from public view.
Keeping Matters Private
The sealing of the Paterno will is certainly an exception that proves the rule. Almost all of these documents become public record, and the few exceptions are usually only in high-profile cases with very unique circumstances. However, local residents can keep their affairs private (and avoid the probate process altogether) by visiting with a New York estate planning attorney to take advantage of trusts. These alternative arrangements are often much better for tax purposes and are far more flexible, offering residents much more control over the process.
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