One of the primary reasons people prepare an estate plan is to avoid the need to go to probate. There is a great misunderstanding about the effect of dying with only a Will. Unfortunately, most people believe that if you die with a Will you avoid the necessity of going to the probate court. This is false. However, if you die with a Trust and you have properly funded your assets into your Trust, you can avoid the necessity of probate.

Why is it important to avoid probate?

The probate process costs money (attorney fees and court costs) and all of the records are open to the public to view.  Yes, your entire financial life is available for all to read. Presently, if someone was curious about the contents of your probate estate, they would have to travel to the probate court and view the file.

Is an online database to review filed Wills in our future?

This past week in Britain, almost 41 million British Wills dating back to 1858, including those of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana, were made available to the public online. The government’s full archive of Wills stretching back more than 150 years, is available to view online at probatesearch.service.gov.uk.

In the United States, there is no single repository of online Wills. Each county maintains the probate court records and presently the only manner to view a Will is to personally go to the county probate clerk and read the document. Most county courts provide an online database to view the court docket but do not provide copies of Wills online.

Would you want your entire financial life available for all to view?

Most would agree that the expectation of privacy are different for those that are famous compared to the rest of us. As interesting as it is to see the lives of the rich and famous on reality television, you can imagine the interest in learning more about these British historical figures. The British Wills that are now available for public viewing are fascinating. It includes the Wills of World War II prime minister Churchill; novelist Charles Dickens; Diana, princess of Wales; children’s writer A. A. Milne; code-breaker Alan Turing; writer George Orwell and author Beatrix Potter.

Online WillsIn Churchill’s will he gave £304,044 — worth more than almost $8 million nowadays — to his family. When Dickens died in 1870 he left a Will written in cursive script that laid out highly specific directions for his funeral. “I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” he wrote, adding that mourners must not wear scarves, cloaks, long hatbands, “or other such revolting absurdity.”

Milne, who wrote “Winnie The Pooh”, gave shares of his future royalties and copyright to his favourite London club and Westminster School when he died in 1956.

“Peter Rabbit” creator Beatrix Potter left a lengthy and generous Will reflecting her love for conservation and nature.

Though the British archive has now been converted into digital format, the original paper records will still be kept in a temperature-controlled environment.

Will Requirements in Michigan

In Michigan, a valid Will must comply with MCL 700.2502. The statute provides:

  • The Will is in writing.
  • The Will is signed by the person making it (called the testator).
  • If the Will is not signed by the testator, it can be signed by another person in his or her name at the testator’s direction.
  • The Will must be witnessed by at least two persons within a reasonable time after the witnessing of the Will.
  • A Will can still be a valid Will even if it is not witnessed, if it is dated and if the testator’s signature and the document’s material portions are in the testator’s handwriting.
Can you create Online Wills?

Yes and No! Yes, you can create the document online, print it and then sign it. This is permissible if it meets all of the requirements of a validly executed Will. But, you can’t create an online document, sign it digitally, and store it in the cloud. Why? A valid Will must actually be in writing. What the writing requirement generally means is that the medium for a Will is written and must be sufficiently permanent to provide a reliable record.

An experienced estate planning attorney should be hired to draft the estate plan. Contact The Probate Pro for assistance. By doing so, you can rest assured that your financial affairs can remain private.