San Antonio Express-News MySA.com Copyright 2011, Paul Premack
September 23, 2011
Inventory be kept private after Mom dies?
Dear Mr. Premack: My mother has always been a very private person.
She does not like other people to know about her personal affairs. She is
older now, and though in good health, knows she won’t live forever. She
has asked me to be Executor in her Will and I’ve agreed. When I was
Executor for my uncle who died, I recall having to file a listing of all
his bank accounts and investments with the court. The court records are
open to the public, and I know that would horrify mother. Do you have any
suggestions for ways to maintain her privacy? H.W
The listing of
financial records to which you refer is called an Inventory, Appraisement
and List of Claims. Under state law, an Executor of an estate is required
to file that Inventory with the court within 90 days of becoming Executor.
This law exists to allow the estate’s creditors to see whether the estate
has sufficient assets to pay their claims.
Inventories are indeed
public records, and contain a great deal of personal information. For
instance, the Inventory must list all of the decedent’s real property
located in Texas plus valuations of the real property. It must include all
of the bank accounts, including the account number and bank name and
balance at the date of death. The same is required for investments like
brokerage accounts, stocks, bonds, automobiles, insurance payable to the
estate, property held jointly with others, and personal effects.
Bexar County holds those records in files at the courthouse, which can be
viewed by anyone willing to travel to the courthouse, find the right
office, look up the estate number in the computer, and sign a written
request to see the file. Eventually, those records may be made available
on the county’s website for anyone to view from any computer. Already
several other Texas counties (like Travis County) make estate records,
including Inventories, available on their websites along with other public
Your mother is not the only person concerned about
privacy and the possible abuses that may come from the public availability
of all that personal data. Several legislative sessions have entertained
bills meant to provide cures. For instance, one bill from a few sessions
ago would have allowed the court to order an Inventory sealed from public
view – but that bill did not pass into law.
In the latest
legislative session, a new bill was finally approved and went into effect
on September 1, 2011. The law now states when 1) there are no debts
(except for secured debts like a mortgage), and 2) all beneficiaries
named in the Will have been given a copy of the Inventory, then it is not
necessary to file the Inventory with the court. Instead, the Executor can
file an affidavit telling the court that the new law has been followed.
Thus, the private information is released only to the estate’s heirs, and
not to the general public.
If your mother wants to keep things
even more private than that, she should investigate legal methods to avoid
probate. For instance, she could work with a qualified attorney to set up
a Revocable Living Trust. She would transfer her assets to the trust. When
she eventually dies, those assets are distributed by the Trustee to the
individuals specified by your mother under the terms of the trust. If all
the assets pass via the trust, no probate is required and no Inventory is
necessary. Her privacy is protected best when she is proactive by making a
legally binding plan that specifically addresses her concern.
Disclaimer: This column answers a specific
legal question asked by an individual in Texas. The answer may or may
not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat this
column as specific legal advice, as it may not meet your individual
needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own
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attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue.
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Paul Premack is Certified as an Elder Law
Attorney ( CELA ) by the National Elder Law Foundation as accredited by
the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and tthe ABA. He is licensed to pracice law in Texas.
Benjamin Premack holds a JD and a Masters Degree in International
Affairs, and is licensed to practice law in Washington State and in