Are Estate Plans Public in Florida? How Can I Keep My Probate Estate Private?
Probate estates are a matter of public record in Florida. Therefore, anyone who is interested in viewing your estate can access copies of the documents by researching the probate records in the county in which your probate estate was opened. For many individuals, this access may be an invasion of privacy that they do not appreciate. Unfortunately, after your death, you may not have the ability to keep your financial matters private unless you take steps now to prevent your probate estate from becoming a matter of public record.
Our Ocala probate attorneys can help you take advantage of estate planning tools that can help keep your estate plans private. You may be able to avoid anyone, including heirs that you may choose to leave out of your estate, from accessing information about your choices for distributing assets after your death. Call (352) 519-4299 or use the contact form above to request a free consultation with a Ocala estate planning attorney with The Law Offices of Justin McMurray, P.A.
Your Will is Not Considered Private Information
Sadly, the terms of your will are not considered private after your death. When your probate estate is opened, your will is placed in the public record. In addition, the forms your personal representative must complete and file with the probate court for the administration of the estate are also public record. Any of your heirs or creditors can review the terms of your will and the list of property filed with the court.
While the decisions to leave property to certain heirs, friends, or charitable organizations remain a personal matter during your lifetime, the details are public after your death. Unfortunately, some individuals may not understand your personal choices,and they may be hurt, confused, and angry by the terms of your will. If the terms of your will may cause conflict between family members, you may want to choose other estate planning tools to settle financial matters after your death.
How Can You Avoid Probate to Keep Your Estate Private?
Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your choices for distributing property after your death private. These estate planning tools allow you to distribute property to beneficiaries outside of the probate court. Because the property is never a part of your probate estate, the distribution of the property is not a matter of public record.
Two of the tools that you may want to consider to avoid probate are trust agreements and beneficiary designations.
Trust agreements are extremely flexible tools that you can use to avoid probate. There are several different types of trusts that can hold property during your lifetime and distribute that property after your death or continue to manage the assets for the benefit of the trust beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of trusts may include your family members, friends, charitable organizations, or even your pets.
A common trust agreement used by many people is a Revocable Living Trust. With a Revocable Living Trust, you can transfer title to property to the trust while you name yourself as the trustee to manage the property. A Revocable Living Trust can be voided or changed, which makes this type of trust appealing to many people. However, a revocable trust does not provide the same level of protection from creditors as some other types of trust agreements.
An Irrevocable Trust Agreement cannot be changed or voided after you fund the agreement. However, an Irrevocable Trust Agreement provides a higher level of protection from creditors and may offer other benefits to protect property and heirs. While the idea of transferring your property to an irrevocable trust and losing absolute control over those assets may seem frightening, this type of trust can also protect the assets from your heirs' creditors too.
Trust agreements are not public record. Therefore, the only people who will know the terms of the trust are you, your successor trustee, and the trust beneficiaries unless the beneficiaries choose to share the information with others.
Some assets do not pass through your probate estate. These assets pass directly to heirs using a beneficiary designation. The only people who know about the property are you and the beneficiaries. During your lifetime, your beneficiaries are not aware that they will inherit the property at your death unless you discuss this matter with them.
Examples of property that can pass directly to beneficiaries without going through probate include:
- Retirement accounts, including IRAs and 401k accounts
- Some financial and bank accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Health Savings Accounts
Working closely with a Ocala probate attorney can help you determine which assets pass directly to beneficiaries and which assets need to be placed in a trust to protect the assets and keep your decisions about inheritance private.
Call a Ocala Probate Attorney for Help
Contact The Law Offices of Justin McMurray, P.A. at (352) 519-4299to request a free consultation with our Ocala estate planning attorney.