As a Santa Barbara trust lawyer, I've found that most people do not understand the serious privacy intrusions that their family can face if they die without a Living Trust.
Here in California and across the country, if you pass away without a Living Trust, all of the details about your family's inheritance and what you are leaving behind to your loved ones becomes a matter of public record—even if you have a Will or other estate planning documents in place!
I know this feels violating. And, it is. It also presents a safety issue to those people inheriting your estate.
Think about it– there are a lot of bad people out there just looking for widows or other beneficiaries who have come into money so they can rob it from them. People come up with all sorts of scams and schemes to prey on people who have just received an inheritance.
So why does California make this information available to the public in the first place?
Well, to keep things simple, one of the primary purposes of Santa Barbara County probate is to make sure the creditors of the deceased person have an easy way to collect debts they are owed from their estate. That's why all of your financial information is made open and public.
This information is also made public so the creditors of your beneficiaries have notice that they are inheriting an estate. That way, if your beneficiary owes money, the creditor can make a claim to receive the money you just left them.
Which will no doubt happen—unless you structure things properly.
To be clear, I'm not saying your debts should go unpaid. In fact, you should instruct your estate administrator to pay your debts. But, wouldn't you rather direct how this process goes instead of leaving it up to the courts? And don't you want to protect the privacy of your family at the same time?
Fortunately, you can do all of that with a Living Trust.
Unlike a Will, a Living Trust is a private document that will not become a matter of public record because it does not have to be filed with the Santa Barbara County probate court. And, because it's private, you can name beneficiaries and provide gifts without any outside creditors, scam artists, disgruntled relatives or nosey neighbors knowing about it.
Remember, there are people out there who make a living preying on young or vulnerable people that have just inherited something from an estate. You'd be surprised how many people check the public records daily looking for this information. Fortunately, with a little bit of planning, you can protect your family from unscrupulous creditors and privacy violations that accompany the Santa Barbara County probate process.
If you need help creating a Living Trust, or if you want to learn additional ways to protect your family if something unexpected happened to you, just call us at (805) 946-1550 and set up a consultation at our Santa Barbara estate planning law firm. Your family will thank you for it.