Wills vs. Living Trusts: Keeping Private Matters Private

In June, Richard Harrison died. Although his name may not seem familiar, you would probably recognize his face: Richard was the “Old Man” on the History Channel’s popular “Pawn Stars” television show, which features the Gold and Silver pawn shop in Las Vegas.

Then, in July, Richard’s Will was filed in Nevada state court, and the media noticed that someone was missing: one of Harrison’s three sons, Christopher. In fact, to say Christopher was “missing” from the Will is a bit misleading—Richard’s Will says that Richard “intentionally and with full knowledge failed to provide for him and his issue.”

Rick Harrison, another of Richard’s sons (and the one who appeared on “Pawn Stars”), gave a statement to Fox News: “The family had previously discussed this information and it is a private matter.”

Well, not so private anymore!

The Harrisons’ now-public family arrangements serve as a useful reminder of one of the advantages of estate planning with trusts rather than just a Will: the ability to keep private matters private.

California Probate is a Public Process

Probate is the formal court process through which a deceased person’s estate is gathered together, managed, and distributed to his or her heirs or devisees. In California—like in Nevada and every other state—probate is a public process. All the filings, including a Will and the inventory, are open to review by the public.

That means that anyone who wants to can look at your probate case records and discover:

  • Who are your family members;
  • What property you owned;
  • What your estate was worth; and
  • Who received your property after you died.

As the Harrisons’ case shows, this information being open to the public can lead to some unnecessary public embarrassments.

But there is an alternative.

Trusts Keep Private Matters Private

The typical estate plan in California relies on living trusts, rather than just a Will. Unlike Wills, which must be filed in court to be effective, trusts are completely private arrangements: Only in exceptional circumstances will the trust document end up in court records.

Of course, estate planning with trusts is not 100% private, because a trust will usually be coupled with what’s called a “pour-over” Will. This kind of Will is meant to catch any property that wasn’t transferred to the living trust while a person was still alive and “pour it over” into the trust.

But in a properly structured estate plan, a pour-over Will only has to deal with minor assets, not the big stuff like a home or car (or retirement plans, life insurance, and other nonprobate assets, for that matter).

Learn How a Living Trust Can Keep Your Private Matters Private

 The privacy protections offered by living trusts are not just useful for celebrities like Richard Harrison. They can also help protect your loved ones against local busybodies, thieves, and creditors. And if you’re planning to disinherit a family member, it can spare your loved ones the public embarrassment that comes from such information getting out.

To explore how a living trust can help you keep your private matters private, contact the Law Office of Bridget Mackay to schedule a consultation.