By: Attorney Danielle Rousset
Recently, the BBC reported that the last will and testament of Prince Philip, the late husband of England’s Queen Elizabeth II, would be sealed for 90 years following his death in April of 2021. While the laws surrounding wills are different in the United States, and they can vary from state to state, some Americans may have wondered if they can take advantage of similar options to ensure that their private affairs will not be made public following their death. By understanding how probate matters are handled in Wisconsin, the state’s residents can determine the best steps they can take to make sure their wishes will be followed correctly while maintaining privacy whenever possible.
Wills and Probate Court
Following a person’s death, the executor of their estate will file their last will and testament in probate court. During the probate process, the executor will take an inventory of the estate, pay any applicable debts or taxes on behalf of the decedent, and distribute the person’s assets to their heirs while following the instructions the decedent provided in their will. Matters handled in probate court are part of the public record, which means that the contents of a last will and testament will be publicly accessible. Court records related to probate litigation will also be available to the public.
In some cases, interested parties such as an executor or the beneficiaries named in a will may ask for the will or other court records to be sealed. Wisconsin law allows for the automatic sealing or redaction of court documents to protect certain types of information, such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, or bank accounts. However, a judge usually will only allow a will to be sealed in extraordinary circumstances, such as to protect the personal details of a celebrity or public figure or to prevent harassment of beneficiaries.
Another way to maintain privacy when addressing matters related to a person’s estate is to use trusts. When assets are held in a trust, they will be placed in the control of a trustee, who will follow instructions for how the assets should be distributed to the beneficiaries of the trust. Distributions of the assets in a trust are handled outside of the probate process, and the terms of a trust are confidential. This may allow for a faster, more efficient, and more private method of distributing property to a person’s heirs.
Contact Our Milwaukee, WI Wills and Trusts Attorneys
If you want to learn more about your options for passing your assets to your beneficiaries, the attorneys of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP can advise you on whether wills, trusts, or other options can provide you with privacy. We can also provide representation during the probate process to ensure that a person’s final affairs will be handled correctly. Contact our Milwaukee estate planning lawyers today at 414-271-1440 to learn more about the services we provide.