With today’s technology and without the creation of a proper trust, probated wills have become public records and may even be accessed online. Some examples are:
- Paul Revere left all his household furniture to an unmarried daughter.
- Daniel Webster willed his grandson a gold snuff box with the head of George Washington on it and all his fishing tackle.
- Eli Whitney left two of his nephews $1,000 each.
Ancestry.com provides extremely personal details such as the ones stated above, and what’s worse? They are only a mouse click away. Ancestry.com has digitized information of more than 100 million people, which include wills and probate records. Information can be found regarding the deceased as well as their family members and friends, dating from the Colonial era to present time.
Ancestry.com used to provide a resource for Americans to look into their roots, but now it also provides access to wills that became public record due to lack of a proper estate plan, which forced surviving family members to resort to the probate process.
Jennifer Utley, the senior manager of research at Utah’s headquarters of Ancestry.com said, “What you find in probate records and wills are the rich stories about what mattered enough to pass down and a wealth of information about family history.”
Unfortunately, privacy is not being taken in consideration by making wills a public record. Just as many others, Paul Revere’s will has become available to the public, and it reveals very interesting facts about his relationships with his close relatives. All the grandchildren were granted $500 by his will, with the exception of one, “who shall have no part of my estate” except for $1, the will says. Revere would have been able to ensure his family’s privacy if he had properly drafted a trust plan.
Such information has been held in basements and storage areas in courthouses across the country, but Ancestry.com’s three-year digitization project has been able to place it in a readily available place for world-wide access, most importantly, for a small fee of $19.99 per month.
Probated wills are public records and may be obtained upon request at the corresponding courthouse. Unfortunately, today’s technology makes those records available even on smart-phones. Although marriage certificates, birth certificates and census information are already public records, they are not as detailed as wills and therefore do not disclose unnecessary and private information. A probated will may give the public private information such as family ties, relationships, thoughts and desires of individuals.
Plan ahead and do not let your property, wealth, and life-long efforts be a click away from the world. Relying on a will, as well as dying without a properly drafted estate plan leads surviving members to reach out to the probate process, making your personal business a public record.
Do not allow your family’s personal matters to become public record, plan ahead! Contact your estate planning attorney here or via telephone at (888) 597-9685 TODAY.