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How A Pour Over Will Can Protect Your Privacy

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At Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group, some of our clients are surprised to find out that probate is a public proceeding. Not only is your will filed with the court, but any member of the public can research probate records to find out how many assets you had at death and who you left them to. Many of our clients crave privacy, so they should consider the advantages of a pour over will.

What is a Pour Over Will?

A pour over will simply states that all of the assets in an estate shall be poured into a trust that has been previously created during your lifetime. With a trust, you name a trustee to manage assets that you turned over to the trust. You also name beneficiaries who will receive those assets after you die. Unlike wills, trusts are private and not filed with the probate court, so no one can find out what assets you owned or who receives them.

After creating your trust, you draft a pour over will. This will does not identify individual assets that you own. Instead, it uses general language stating that you leave your estate to the trust. Although the pour over will gets filed in probate court, it doesn’t include a detailed accounting of the assets that you own. It also makes no reference to who the beneficiaries are under your trust.

Harper Lee Used a Pour Over Will

In 2016, beloved novelist Harper Lee died. The author of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee was an intensely private individual who never married and had no children. After her death, her personal representative filed Lee’s will with the probate court with a request that it be sealed, which the judge granted.

Because Lee had signed a will only six days before her death, public interest was intense about who she left her assets to. Her novels generate millions of dollars a year in royalties, and people assumed that the reclusive Lee did not spend much of her lifetime earnings. The New York Times petitioned the court to unseal the will so that the public could finally see the extent of her estate and the identities of those who would inherit it. In February 2018, the judge granted the request.

The result? Lee had a pour over will. The New York Times went to all that trouble for nothing. The will simply stated that Lee’s assets, including her literary works, should be transferred to a trust that she had created in 2011. Because the trust is private, no journalist can ask a judge to make it public.

Speak with a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning is a complicated process, and you need an experienced attorney by your side throughout the entire process. At Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group, we listen to our clients and then help guide them to appropriate estate planning instruments like pour over wills and trusts. If you are concerned about maintaining your privacy, call us at 800-743-9732 to set up a consultation or contact us online.

Resources:

nytimes.com/2018/02/27/books/harper-lee-will.html

flcourts.org/resources-and-services/family-courts/family-law-self-help-information/probate.stml

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