Massachusetts Estate Planning & Asset Protection Blog

A Tale of Two Plans

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Mon, Nov 24, 2014

A Tale of Two Plans | Massachusetts Elder Law Attorney


Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Estate planning attorneys and their clients alike are interested in the lives of the rich and famous. From star athletes to established Hollywood super stars to up-and-coming musicians; we’re all guilty of reading up on other people. There is one thing that estate planning attorneys know that their clients probably don’t: that the type of estate plan you have dictates just how much information about your life, health and financial affairs will be publicly available about you after you pass on.

Everyone Will Know

George Washington’s Will is available to anyone who walks into the Fairfax County, Virginia, courthouse, or with a short search, anyone with an internet connection. It’s not just the Wills of historical or political figures that are available either.

If someone dies with only a Will in place, it is very easy to find out all about their assets and final wishes. Except in the rare instance of a local law to the contrary, the Will of every person (who died with one admitted to probate) is available for inspection in the locale in which they resided at death. The assets controlled by the Will are inventoried and that inventory is also a public record.

Unless You Have a Trust

While some clients may not care about privacy, others would be startled to think that a listing of their assets would be available to their nosy neighbors, distant relatives, and anyone trolling through public records.

With a trust, the terms are private and your assets are private. Some clients may not care about costs or delays their heirs may encounter after their death, however, many of those will care about their ongoing privacy as well as their families. This can be especially useful in preventing predatory lawsuits and leaving assets to someone who is going through hard times who may not wish to advertise an unexpected influx of cash.

Two Different Approaches

Recently, the privacy of differing plans was illustrated by the unfortunate deaths of actress Lauren Bacall and comedian Joan Rivers. Bacall’s estate plan utilized a Will as the primary vehicle, while Rivers’ plan used a Trust as the primary vehicle for her assets. By using a Trust to pass on her assets to her heirs, Rivers plan and the extent of her assets are not available for anyone but her attorney and her those she left her assets to. Bacall’s plan on the other hand, left her instructions, plans and assets laid bare for anyone with an interest to see. Her assets will be inventoried and that inventory, along with her Will, shall be available in the “Surrogate’s Court” in Manhattan, where she lived.

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Tags: Estate Planning, probate, trusts, Wills, privacy

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