September 26, 2019
Who Can See My Will in Michigan?
You may be concerned about the privacy of your probate estate after your death. Who can view your will or access your probate records? For some people, the fact that estate records are typically considered public records is disturbing. They do not want strangers, or even family members, reading their will or viewing an inventory of their property after their death.
Are there ways that you can prevent your will from becoming a matter of public record?
In most cases, the answer is no. Your will becomes a matter of public record once the estate is filed. Your personal representative must file your original will to probate your estate. However, there are a few things you can do to limit what is considered part of your probate estate and thereby limit the amount of financial information released to the public, your heirs, and other parties.
Using Beneficiaries, Title, and Trusts to Protect Your Privacy
Some property does not pass to heirs through your probate estate. Property that does not pass through your estate should not appear in your probate file.
- Beneficiary Designations
Assets that have beneficiary designations pass directly to the beneficiary upon your death. These assets are not listed as property in your probate estate.
Assets that pass to a beneficiary include most retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, some brokerage accounts, and some financial accounts. Just make sure that you update beneficiary designations to ensure that the asset passes directly to an individual after your death.
If you fail to designate a valid beneficiary, the asset passes to your estate after your death. It is wise to review beneficiary designations regularly and after any major life event, such as a divorce, death, or birth.
- Jointly Titled Property
The way you hold title to property can also prevent the property from passing through your estate. Property that is titled with a joint owner with right of survivorship, such as vehicles and real estate, pass directly to the joint owner. Financial accounts that have POD (paid on death) or TOD (transfer on death) designations pass direction to the designated individual instead of passing through your estate.
- Property Held In Trusts
Trust agreements are another way to keep your financial matter private after your death. A trust holds title to property and manages that property during your lifetime, according to the terms of the trust.
Upon your death, the assets can be transferred from the trust directly to the trust beneficiary without passing through your estate. Some trusts may also be set up to continue after your death to manage the property for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.
Contact The Elder Care Firm of Christopher J. Berry, CELA to Discuss Your Estate Plan
In most cases, an experienced Michigan estate planning attorney can develop an estate plan that addresses your concerns, including concerns regarding privacy. The key is to work with an estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive estate plan that addresses matters such as:
- Asset protection
- Tax planning
- Long-term care (Medicaid) planning
- Incapacity planning
- Charitable giving
- Special needs planning
- Other matters specific to your situation or desires for your estate
Call 888-390-4360 or use the contact form on our website to schedule an appointment with a Michigan estate planning attorney.