Fifty years ago, Clairol tantalized the country with the question, “Does she. . . or doesn’t she?” Ostensibly, the answer was about hair coloring (“Only her hairdresser knows for sure”) but that certainly wasn’t the only thing on audiences’ minds. Men everywhere wanted to know: did she . . . leave anything to him in her will?
All right, maybe that wasn’t what they were asking. After all, the truth is out there. The fact of the matter is, your will and everything in it becomes a matter of public record shortly after you die. In order to make sure that your creditors are paid and your assets are distributed properly, your executor must file your will with the court to begin the long process of probate – and it immediately becomes available to anyone with a little time to read and an interest in other people’s business. You may have been a mysterious figure during your life, but probate will get rid of all that privacy nonsense.
Unless. Unless you have less than $100,000 in total assets (including the total value of your house, your car, and everything else you own) or . . . unless your assets are contained in a revocable living trust.
A revocable living trust allows your assets to pass outside probate. No probate, no public record. Your trust documents won’t be filed anywhere public. Nobody knows what your trust says except the people who need to know. Of course, you also get to save the enormous cost of probate (a few hundred dollars for the court, several thousand dollars for the probate attorney), and your heirs won’t have to wait so long to get their inheritances (probate takes roughly 6-18 months on average). As my mother might have said, such a deal!
If you have less than $100,000 in total assets, make a will. Your executor will be able to stay out of probate court by just filing one short form. Nolo Press offers inexpensive materials to help you in this case, if you want to do it yourself.
Otherwise, take the plunge and call an estate planning attorney; you can find one near you online, just by using Nolo’s Lawyer Directory or checking out www.lawyers.com. Better yet, try both and cross-check the lawyers you find. Creating a revocable living trust is more complicated than it looks, and it’s worth spending the time now to get it right for later. That way, only your heirs – and not your hairdresser – will know for sure.