Privacy in your will

Posted: 6th June 2012

The genealogy website Ancestry.co.uk has recently uploaded more than six million probate records covering the period from 1942 to 1966. These include the details of many famous wills and reveal such fascinating snippets as the fact that the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas left only £100 on his death (the equvalent of £2,300 today) whilst the children’s author Beatrix Potter was much more financially successful, leaving an estate which would be worth nearly £8 million today to her husband.
Interesting though this information is, both to the genealogist and to the general public, some people may wish to keep their assets and who inherits them away from the public domain. As every will becomes publicly available once admitted to probate, and each Grant of Probate or Administration will give at least some indication of the value of assets, or even the exact amount, how can greater privacy be achieved?
If your concern is keeping the identity of your beneficiaries under wraps, this could be achieved by leaving a sum of money to a nominated person to distribute as you direct in a document separate from the will which and would not be published. Alternatively, you could consider setting up a ‘pilot’ trust in your lifetime with a nominal sum of money and then leaving assets to the trustees in your will to hold upon the terms of the trust. Again, the trust document would not be published and the identity of the beneficiaries of the trust would remain known only to those you choose.
Letters of wishes can also be used to distribute furniture, art, jewellery and other personal effects which keeps this information out of the public eye, both as to the exact items owned and the identity of the recipients.
If your wish is to avoid the exact amount of your assets becoming common knowledge on your death, giving away assets during your lifetime, either outright or to trusts, can be a way of achieving this, subject to tax and affordability constraints. Assets such as insurance policies can be put outside the estate by writing them in trust. Moreover, if all your assets are held in joint names it is likely that a grant of probate will not be required for your estate, thus maintaining complete confidentiality.
Privacy from the tax man is a different matter! All assets, including trusts in which you have an interest and gifts made in the last seven years before death, have to be declared to HMRC by your executors.