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Can a trust truly be kept private?

As we've discussed on our blog before, there are multiple reasons why a trust might prove to be the single most effective instrument to accomplish your estate planning objectives.

To recap, a trust can not only ensure that your assets are distributed according to your exact wishes, but also serve to minimize estate and gift tax liability, and provide a considerable degree of privacy as probate can be avoided altogether.

Regarding this last point, however, it's important to understand that this doesn't necessarily mean there is no way the details of a trust will ever be broadcast.

Indeed, in the event the trustees and/or the beneficiaries become involved in some type of legal dispute that escalates to the point of litigation, experts indicate that there is actually very little that can be done to prevent the details of the trust from being revealed and becoming public knowledge.   

By way of illustration, consider the legal feud that developed between the children of the late Richard Mellon Scaife, the former publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the trustees who oversaw a trust established by his mother back in 1935.

Here, the children alleged that the trustees had allowed their father to essentially loot the trust, leaving future generations virtually nothing in trust assets.

In challenging these claims, however, the trustees were permitted by the court to introduce evidence that the children benefited to the tune of millions of dollars being held in another family trust.

Here, it's highly unlikely that the children wanted the details of this trust made private, but the litigation made this an impossibility.

None of this is to say, however, that there is nothing that can be done to prevent this from occurring. Indeed, there are several steps that can be taken to help ensure that the details of a trust remain private and we'll explore these in our next post. 

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