Is probate record private – not if all your information is available for download
Probate is not a private process, no matter what you've heard, and anyone can get online and find out everything about your estate. A couple of months ago, we did a video, this one up here, on how the probate process is a very public process. Today, we're going to talk about the initial petition for probate and what is available to anybody, anywhere, with an internet connection even before the first hearing in the case.
The first document that is usually filed is a petition for probate. And you might think, well, that's not bad, but you might be surprised at the amount of information that is in the initial petition for probate. It's a lot guys! The first information listed in most states is the name of the decedent and their date of debt. The moment that the petition is filed, the name of the decedent is out there. And there are companies in the United States and probably around the world that monitor new petitions for probate every single day.
They literally monitor every probate case, every day, in every courthouse, in every state of these United States. Most of these companies are legitimate and they're just collating this information for other companies, such as creditors and medical providers who just wanna get paid. That's understandable. Usually within a week of filing an initial petition for probate, we get three letters in the mail. The first is from a company in Florida, and I won't say their name, but they represent hospitals and doctors all over the United States and their letter simply asks when they're gonna get paid. And that's legitimate.
Second, we get letters from companies that supposedly specialize in finding long lost errors for an outrageous price of course. I've seen it as high as 20, 30, 40% of the total of the estate. So avoid those companies. And third, if the decedent owned a home or any real estate, we get a letter from one of those 1-800 buy homes places offering pennies on the dollar for a quick sale of the real estate. We as a law firm are geared up for probates.
So when these letters come in, we know what to do with them. But when people try to do a probate on their own, we have seen them get into trouble by responding incorrectly to these initial letters. The next thing listed in that initial petition for probate is usually the names and addresses of all the heirs and the names and address of the person who is actually filing the petition.
That means the names and addresses of all your family members are going to be out there for anybody to see. Now, I know what you're thinking. Isn't this information already out there on the internet? And the answer is, yes, of course it is. It's all out there, unfortunately, nowadays. But your family's names and addresses are now out there in connection with a probate.
You see what I'm saying here? Just like those street companies that contact us within a week, there are other unscrupulous companies out there that now have an opportunity or an angle, shall we say, to scam your family regarding the probate process and what they might be inheriting. One of the things we have seen is companies offering to front family members cash for their anticipated inheritance. Now that might be a good idea, but it's gonna be pennies on the dollar, guys.
The next thing usually list in the petition for probate is a very general description of the decedent's assets. And again, do you really want the whole world to know what you owned? In later pleadings, a specific listing of all assets and dollar amounts could be required opening up your family members to scammers and even legitimate companies trying to sell their goods to your family members. In our next video, we'll talk about the initial inventory that must be made.
If all the information so far is not enough, then most states also require original copies of your last will and testament and the death certificate, a certified copy, to be attached to the petition for probate. All those specific gifts you mentioned in your last will, like your gold watch going to your son, Tommy, or your Star Wars collection, going to your daughter, Sally, all of those are now public record. All of that and the entire last will and testament is available to anyone with an internet connection.
Now they can still go to the courthouse and make copies. But guys, isn't it easier just to get online, right? Think for a moment of all the private information and the work that you put into your last will and testament, do you really want it available to anyone who wants to read it? Like I've said in the past, and in other videos, probate is not private. And I do not understand why most people think of a probate as a private process. It's simply is not.
All your nosy neighbor Nellie needs to do is hop online and get all of the information about your probate and your finances and your bank accounts. Nosy Nellie does not even need to pay for access. Like most states, access to court records is all free in Oklahoma and she can download almost every pleading and print it out that has been filed in the probate case, whether it's your probate or a relative's probate.
Another big problem with the initial probate, petition for probate, is it in many states, most states, family members in line of succession must be notified even if they are not getting anything under your last will. You see how that could be a problem? Now, giving notice is important and it's part of the foundation of our court systems. But giving notice by mailing to family members and publishing in a local newspaper means that anybody can show up and object to the proceedings.
Even if it is not a legitimate objection, a hearing is almost always required and usually held at a later date. This creates delays in the probate process and expense to the estate of course. Can you tell I'm not a huge fan of a last will-based estate plan? A revocable trust centered estate plan is usually the better and more private way to go. I know this is a lot to think about.
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So that is why we put together our free guide on probate procedure and another one on estate planning. I will put a link in the description section below and again in the comment section. Click on the links below to get a copy of our guides on probate and estate planning that our clients use every day to get you started in the right direction. And to up your estate planning game even more, please check out this video up here and this one up here. And if you liked this video, hit that like button, the one like this, and be sure to smash that subscribe button and share it with your friends. I would really appreciate it. You don't know how much that helps. Have a great day, and as always, have an awesome week. Thanks for watching.