Millions of Wills and Probate Records Now Online at Ancestry.com: How to Maintain Your Family’s Privacy
Ancestry.com recently shared the launch of their online collection of more than 170 million pages of wills and probate records from US decedents. Ancestry’s online collection of wills, however, is not the first of its kind. In fact, wills and probate records are already accessible online in Nashville and other Tennessee counties. The availability of online access to court filings in Tennessee and other jurisdictions will continue to grow as courts modernize to electronic filing and record keeping.
Ancestry boasts of the benefits that society will reap in having instant online access to so many decedents’ wills. Individuals and historians alike will gain greater context and insight into the lives of their ancestors and the lives of many of America’s great historical figures – including the juicy details of family discord.
For many individuals a last will is a private document containing sensitive information concerning their loved ones that they do not desire to make public record. And for families with privacy concerns, the benefits of keeping the details of their estate plan private far outweigh any potential benefits to society.
Fortunately, for those of us with privacy concerns, family privacy can oftentimes be maintained through proper estate planning. Structuring an estate plan to properly incorporate a revocable living trust may avoid the public process of a probate proceeding altogether and potentially minimize estate administration fees and expenses.
Be forewarned, however, that a revocable trust is not right for everyone and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For starters, some people own assets which may not be transferred to a revocable trust during their lifetime or upon their death. Other people have no need for a revocable trust because they can easily accomplish their overall estate planning objectives and still avoid probate proceedings by simply retitling assets and/or changing beneficiary designation. And in certain situations there may be potential for a loss of privacy during the lifetime of the person who establishes the trust because certain financial institutions may require the trust instrument to be disclosed when opening a new account or transferring assets.
An experienced estate planning attorney can assist you in structuring an estate plan that meets your family’s desires and objectives including your personal privacy concerns. Ancestry.com and courts with online records access provide us with a dearth of information and transparency, but with proper estate planning these online resources do not have to affect the personal legacy you leave your family.