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Estate Planning and Public Information After Someone Dies

Using the actor, John Mahoney, I will discuss what happens when someone dies. John Mahoney died earlier this year.  Mr. Mahoney was an actor who was most known for playing the father on the show Frasier.

John Mahoney had a fully executed will which was drafted by a lawyer and followed all requirements under Illinois law. After John Mahoney died, the will was filed with the local court, as required by law. I received a copy of this will and and other documents filed with the court for small fee.  A will is not a public document while you are living but after you die it becomes a public record. This means that all of the information in your will become public record. For John Mahoney, below is a summary of his last requests:

  1. Bernard J. Dowling was primary executor and the back up executor was Mary Sullivan.

  2. Bernard Dowling was left all tangible personal property and left a specific bequest of $2,000,000.00 and all real estate located in United States of America.

  3. $1,000,000.00 was left to a charity of David Cudnowski choice but must be among the charities to which Mr. Mahoney made gifts of during his lifetime.

  4. He left a house in England to his sister in law for her life and on her death the property would transfer to her and one of John’s brothers children.

  5. A. Richard and Barbara Anderson were left $100,000.00

  6. Michael Morelli was left $50,000.00.

  7. The remaining assets of the estate are to be split between over 30 people which are all named in a will.

As part of estate administration,the attorney had to track down the address of everyone interested in the estate. Since a probate was filed, everyone is given formal notice and their address becomes part of the court record. In future articles I will talk about some of the benefits and negatives of having a only a will vs a will and a trust. This example shows you that one major negative of only having a will is privacy. As a reminder, when a person passes the original copy of the will is required to be filed with the correct court within 30 days. If the only estate planning device you have is a will, everyone will find out you last wishes. If you desire matters to be private there are ways to accomplish this through more complicated estate planning, most commonly this is done through a revocable trust.

Douglas Miller