Definition | Administration | Cost | Delay | Public | Emotional
Probate is Public
When a husband and wife discuss the details of their estate and who will
receive their estate after they are gone, it is generally a private conversation.
It is difficult to imagine anything more private than deciding how you are going
to divide your estate upon your death, how much money you have, how much you owe
and how much your personal items are worth. If you are single, you might want
to discuss your estate with your attorney or your children, but certainly not
other people. Unfortunately, the privacy of these discussions become public
record the day your Will and inventory record are filed with the probate clerk's
office. For $1.00 per page, anyone can go to the probate clerk and request a
photocopy of your Will and your inventory sheet and all accompanying documents
filed with the probate clerk's office. Your Will may include very personal
directions regarding your burial, the guardian of your minor children, how your
estate is to be divided between your children, which child gets a larger
percentage and so forth. The inventory lists each particular asset in your
estate along with its estimated value. It also itemizes all debts that you owe,
- Bing Crosby
After Bing Crosby's first wife, Dixie Lee Crosby died,
the tabloids produced a copy of her Will. Everyone knew about the Crosby
family's assets, the size of their estate, how much money they owed and
how it was to be divided. After Bing Crosby died there was nothing reported
in the newspapers regarding the value of his estate or who was to receive
the assets after his death. The reason for this is that Mr. Crosby learned
from his first wife's mistake and placed his estate in a Living Trust so
that it avoided probate and the publicity involved in probate.
- Justice Warren Burger
Another recent example involves Chief Justice Warren Burger. He was a
very private person, not granting interviews or even talking about his
private life. Unfortunately, after his death his Will, property inventory
and other estate documents became public record. He prepared his own Will
and left a legal tangle for his heirs.
When attorneys are involved in a lawsuit against a person who has
died, there is a tremendous incentive to pull-up a complete inventory
and asset list from the probate court records. It often makes the difference
between filing suit and not filing suit.
- Sale of a Business
Can you imagine the damage that can be done to a surviving spouse when
one of the assets in the estate is a business? Consider this scenario:
A husband has passed away owning a business. The wife, having no interest
in the business, wants to sell it. A potential buyer can request the probate
court records and determine exactly how much the business is worth according
to the seller's own records. This would include how much is owed on the
business and whether or not the surviving widow is strapped for cash. If a
potential buyer realizes the business has value, and the surviving widow is
short on cash, he could make an offer far below the market value of the
Imagine an occasion involving a gentleman who was in the process of
selling his business. He had negotiated with the buyers and had reached a
tentative sale price. Unfortunately, before the deal could be consummated,
the owner of the business died of a heart attack. Within a short period of
time the Will and inventory list were filed with the probate court.
The potential buyers obtained a copy of the Will and inventory list
showing the value of the business. After examining the value of the
business and determining that the seller was short of cash, they withdrew
their tentative offer for the purchase of the business and submitted one
that was 40% less than the original offer. Left with no other options,
the surviving widow accepted the offer.
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