Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dangers Lurking in a Will -- Are Social Security Numbers Listed?

Child's Play
      free image,

Curious about what will make an estate planning attorney gasp in freight?  My personal number one horror to find in a client's old will is a Social Security Number.  It does not matter whether it is the SSN of the client or a loved one they name, modern wills should not contain this sensitive and personally identifiable information.

Why?  The probate process is public.  And the function of a will is to tell the probate court what to do, and it is a court record visible to all.  Now procedures can be taken to protect the decedent.  Blackening the number out is not an option, and may actually violate the law of the state you are in.  Here in Wisconsin my go-to method is to petition the court to keep the matter closed.  It is not perfect, nothing but a will without a SSN is perfect, but it gets the job done.

And there is reason for concern.  Identity theft of all kinds is on the rise in our country.  And death does not protect one for identity theft.  In fact, it may push you higher on the list of would-be-thieves.  Even your death will not prevent someone from syphonning off your last income tax refund or using your information to obtain a drivers license.

Only a minority of Americans have actually done a will.  If you have, but it has been a decade more, you might want to pull it out and look it over.  If a SSN is listed, it might be time for an upgrade.

Thanks for reading, and remember a blog is not legal advice.  Please consult an attorney in your state for advice specific to your situation.


Unknown said...

It’s true that listing your social security number on your probate can put you at risk for identity theft. However, this can also serve as an identifier to allow authorities to verify your identity. This is where an estate planning lawyer becomes very important. Your lawyer can give you advice on putting such sensitive information in public records like probates.

Trudy Nearn

Unknown said...

I understand your concerns regarding putting SSN on probates. Actually, this varies in some states. Like in Ohio, they do not require putting your SSN at all. While Texas, only require the last three digits. And in Missouri, they require the last four digits to create an affidavit of why one would refuse to divulge such information. Anyway, I agree with Trudy that it’s best to consult a legal expert regarding this kind of matter.

David Munson