Probate is not private and to keep things private don't send family into probate
Probate is not a private process, no matter what you've heard. Anybody can get online and find out everything about your estate. Probate is not private and I do not understand why most people think of a probate as a private process. It simply is not. Did you know we have to file the original last will and testament with a petition for probate? We can't file copies.
That means your county courthouse is filled with the last will of every estate that has been probated and a copy of the death certificate. Probate estates become a matter of public record. That means every document filed as part of the probate is a public record. In the old days, if someone wanted to research your probate or a probate, then they had to physically drive down to the courthouse, find a parking space, find the correct office, check out the file, and make photocopies of any part of it that they actually wanted.
Now, especially in Oklahoma, all someone needs to do is to go to oscn.net and type in the probate case number. Actually, someone does not even need to know the probate case number. All they have to do is type in a person's name and the website, oscn.net, will pull up every court case you are involved in, including your probate. All your nosey neighbor Nellie needs to do is hop online and find out all about your probate. Nosey Nellie does not even need to pay for access. It's all free in Oklahoma, and she can download almost every pleading filed in the probate case.
That means nosey Nelly can read your last will, can read your death certificate. She will know who your heirs are. She can read the estate inventory and know exactly how much money and assets are part of the estate and who is getting them. It's not just nosey Nellie that has access either. Others can get access. Anyone can get access to your public records and make your beneficiaries lives miserable if they wanted to. I call them financial predators most of the time. While today's digital world is convenient, it's also dangerous at times.
Financial predators don't even need to find ways to access your information online because it's all there already in a probate case because it is already part of the probate process.
That means they will have names and addresses of heirs and can start calling them claiming some sort of fraud and demanding that your heirs pay them immediately or they're going to be in big trouble. I'm serious guys. We see this all the time. They will literally call some heirs and say you're gonna be in big trouble if you don't pay us money. Scammers will start calling heirs claiming that their heir must pay x amount of dollars or they will lose their loved one's house or their money or their car or something crazy. We've seen it all, unfortunately.
We also deal with creditors who continue to bother heirs for months and years after a probate has been completed, and that's usually because one creditor who settles with the estate will then sell a group of claims to somebody else, and that's because even though we may have settled with a particular creditor, unfortunately, sometimes they group a bunch of creditors in a big pile and then they sell them to somebody else, and the person that they sell 'em to will then try to go back, unfortunately, or unfairly and fraudulently, to try to collect from all the previous people that they have already settled with. We see this, unfortunately, a lot.
One of the biggest problems with probates is challenges to the last will and probate. Because the probate is public, long lost family members can appear at court and contest the proceeding claiming an interest in the estate even though they don't have one. We have even seen ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends contest probates, claiming a common law marriage. Believe me, we've seen it all. All of these creditors, scammers, and ex relationships can end up costing a probate thousands of dollars in extra time and money. Because the probate is an open proceeding, anyone can appear and be heard.
Their claims might be absolutely baseless, but the court still has to let them be heard. When this happens, it usually requires extra hearings and attorneys drafting responses to protect the estate. Like I said, all of this costs extra time and money. If you've watched any of our videos, then you know the better answer is to avoid probate completely with a revocable living trust centered estate plan. A revocable trust is never filed with a court, either before or after your death.
Probate courts are not involved in supervising your trust administration, so you can avoid nosey Nellie and predators by creating a revocable living trust centered estate plan. Trusts are usually kept completely private. In fact, in most cases only beneficiaries and successor trustees will know the actual contents of a trust. In some states, beneficiaries are only allowed to see the sections of a trust that applyto them.