It seems like our personal information is becoming easier and easier to acquire these days, and a recent conversation really brought it to light.  Because many of my clients have become great friends, I have a game I’ll play with them.  Many will notice my middle initial and ask what my middle name is.  It’s not that my middle name is horrible or anything, but it is rare, and I’m not terribly fond of it (although I’m sure I’ll get over that).  So, I make them a deal.  If they can guess my middle name, I’ll let them know if they are correct.  None have figured it out . . .

. . . until a month or so ago.  One of my more tech “savvy” clients emailed me with his guess and he was right on.  I have to admit, after so many not guessing it correctly, I was curious how he found out.  Turns out he used google and some public information sites on the web and was not only able to tell me my middle name, but also how old I am, where I live and where I used to live.  Being tech “savvy” myself, I was quite impressed because I do what I can to not have my private information public.

And I think it brought home a key point in estate planning.  Many families end up in probate court after someone passes away, either as a result of having no estate plan or having a will-based estate plan.  If you thought you would avoid probate by having a will, read this previous post to find out the truth.  Now, I’m not here to malign probate and to say it is some evil, horrible process.  But, it is certainly a public process, as your will and what you owned is part of the probate court file that anyone can access.  I’ve even seen some wills with social security numbers in them.  Some may say, “big deal, I’m dead so my social security number doesn’t matter.”  Well, I beg to differ – read this recent news story if you don’t think it can still be used and cause problems.

So, it’s probably no surprise that many of my clients want to maintain as much of their privacy as possible – both while they are alive and after passing.  And they want their affairs to be handled privately, out of court.  And that’s why many of them decide that a living trust is best for their family.  To find out more about living trusts and how your family can benefit from them, check out these previous posts:

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and charitable planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for “stuff” – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate, charitable, and asset protection planning for all generations (“young” and “experienced”), the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses, and pet planning.  He enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients centered on their families values, insights, stories and experiences.