image reads "are wills confidential?"

Are Wills Confidential?


It might surprise you to learn that many wills are not kept confidential. We tend to think of wills as private documents, but the truth is that many of our wills are likely to end up as a matter of public record.

However, there are a few things you can do to keep some privacy after you pass. And there are some situations where your will may be kept private, and the only people who read its contents will be the executor and beneficiaries. So, read on for our guide on when wills become public record, as well as how to maintain your own privacy.

When do wills become public?

Wills become public when they go through a process called probate. Probate is essentially a routine legal process where the executor of a will applies for the authority to share out the estate, according to the instructions in the will.

Because the will goes through a legal process, it then becomes a matter of public record, and is indexed and viewable through the Probate Registry. Anyone can then use this government provided service to view copies of the probate documentation, which will include the will if there is one.

While you don’t always need probate, in practice if there is property involved most wills do end up requiring it. There are specific ways to set up your estate if you do want your will to remain private, but for many people with larger estates that include property, probate will generally be required.

So, this means that for most people, their wills are likely to become public. However, this will of course only happen after you pass away. While you’re alive, your will is private property and therefore remains confidential.

Of course, if probate isn’t required, then your will remains private and confidential – only your executors and beneficiaries will be able to read it.

How do I keep my will confidential?

So, how do you keep your will private? Obviously, it only becomes public after you pass away, so for many people this won’t be a problem. But, if you do want to keep it confidential, there are a few things you can do.

Your first option is to ensure that the property in the estate is owned by beneficial joint tenants. By doing this, the property will then become wholly owned by the other owner – useful if you have a partner who survives you. However, you can’t share the property out to specific beneficiaries using this arrangement.

Another option is to let your will become public as normal, but to move sensitive or private parts of it into memorandums or letters of wishes, or to leave gifts to trusts. By doing this, you’ll be able to put specific parts of your will into other legal documents, which then remain private.

For example, you might write your will as normal, and then include a line to the effect of specific personal affects will be distributed according to the letter of wishes. In the letter of wishes, you could then set out your wishes for how your jewellery should be bequeathed, for example. This then keeps those specific details private and confidential.

The question over keeping wills confidential is one that many people feel strongly about. For many, their own rights to privacy after they pass are vital and they will take steps to secure them, while other people will simply allow their will to become a matter of public record.

If you want to keep your will private and confidential, then you’ll need to speak to an experienced estate planner. They can discuss your affairs, finances and legal situation with you, and come up with a plan that meets your needs. This may include structuring your affairs in a specific way to avoid needing to use probate but will more likely involve moving certain aspects of your will into private documents.

It’s vital that you do speak to an estate planner if you intend on using these legal documents, as there are specific requirements involved and you do need to be aware of all the complexities which may arise.

For help with your will or planning your estate, speak to Face to Face Estate Planning. Our friendly team of experienced financial planners and will writers will help you ensure your wishes are set out accurately and carefully, giving you peace of mind.