As executor, you have the honor of overseeing and settling someone’s estate. Among your obligations will be to file the will and identify and compile a list of assets to distribute to heirs and pay creditors. However, some testators and executors may not realize that probate records will be available to the general public once the procedure is complete.
What the public can see
A person’s last will and testament is very personal as it expresses their final wishes and intentions. It is why testators do not let anyone see it until after they’re gone. However, once you, as executor, file the will for probate, all that privacy and secrecy is gone.
Distributing assets and property to heirs is one of the main stages in probate. You must also settle any unpaid debts and pay any taxes owed by the deceased. The probate records will most likely contain all the documents related to these procedures.
The following information may become public after you accomplish your duties as executor:
- Estate inventory: A list of assets and properties the decedent owned. This could include their real estate, investments and smaller but valuable items like jewelry and art.
- Accounting: Documents on any outstanding debts owed and creditors paid to, such as credit card companies or financial institutions.
- Beneficiaries: Personal information such as the names and addresses of heirs are accessible to the public.
- Executor: The name and address of the person carrying out the decedent’s last wishes
In Arizona, the county Superior Court where you file will store the probate records. The state also provides an online database where people can look up the location of probate records.
Naturally, the publication of this information can cause issues with privacy for the family. It can make heirs a target for scammers and thieves or cause problems with disinherited heirs. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to keep probate documents private.
Unless the judge finds a compelling reason to do, they will not seal a probate record.
Serving as someone’s executor shows you the ins and outs of probate. If the process made you realize that you’d like to maintain your privacy when you pass on, you may want to avoid probate. Designing the right estate plan may help you do that.