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Not for Public Consumption

By: Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published August 1, 2017

Wills and Trusts

“I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” Lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Contrast that with – “Ann, did you hear that Jane gave her acre of land on Blackjack to Steve?” or “Sara, did you hear that Jane can’t even give away her half acre on Backjack?” or “Alex, did you hear that Jane has five acres on Blackjack worth one million dollars?” And so the story, whether factually true or not, passes from person-to-person.

Hovering on the cusp of turning fifty, I wrestle with the balance of privacy. As a small business owner, I find that I have one foot grounded in the advantages of expediency and marketing available through technology and social media. My other foot longs to entrench and forever hold onto the privacies that seemingly endured when communications occurred through handwritten letters, in-person meetings, and telephone conversations.

The advancement of technology and the rapidly changing face of social media, seem to permit an ever-present opportunity to live life out loud. Perhaps, it is the opposite of this, the out loud living of someone else’s life that offends the senses the most.

It seems like every once in a while, the rules of public etiquette should be revisited, republished, and practiced. This relearning of social protocol is not a new need. Even before people had fences over which to meet, news has been shared from one person to another. Curiosity can be a gift, but it can be a vicious crack in the foundation of a society. Sounds dramatic, but examine the point from its base.

Do you remember the game “telephone,” which is played by people sitting in a circle and the first person is given a phrase and then that phrase is whispered from person-to-person around the circle? The humor was found when the last person spoke the “final” sentence that had been mutated in the sharing within the “telephone” tag.

The familiar and seemingly simple admonishment, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” remains true. What if that caution were to be expanded? For example, There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV In order to protect our society we have laws that address the breach of these items.

What about information? The game “telephone” is a good example of what can happen to information that goes unprotected and abuse that goes unchecked. That begs the question as to what information should be protected. What information should be off-limits to the “over-the-fence” conversations or the social media exchange? Someone else’s: Marriage? Salary? Beliefs? Actions? What about someone’s estate assets – their personal property, their real property, and their investments?

As an estate planning attorney, I frequently have clients who want to guard their privacy. They want the information about their estate assets, how those assets will be handled upon death, and to whom those assets will pass upon death, to remain private. Revocable trusts are often ideal vehicles in which to place one’s assets, not only for the ease of management while the Trustor is living, but for the passing of trust assets in privacy upon the Trustor’s death.

Until one can be certain that their life and assets are not “for public consumption,” and that they will not be the topic of the social exchange known as “telephone,” we can at least utilize the estate planning vehicles available to us to guard our privacy. And, once established, rest easy and strive for the goal of that awesome word “Hallelujah,” being the one word on the tip of one’s tongue when the time matters.