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Are wills a good way to transfer assets in secret?

Many people come and go during a lifetime, but some special ones will remain. When thinking about estate planning, it may be that a person wants to leave a gift for a special someone in his or her life but feels it's best to make the bequest a secret. Can wills be used to transfer assets in secrecy, or is there a better way to give a clandestine gift in British Columbia?

Whatever the reason for secrecy may be, a will might not be the most effective way to make the bequest. Wills become a matter of public record after probate, and the contents will no longer be a secret. Using vague language may cause confusion and could lead to a contesting of the will.

It may be possible to prearrange a trust with an individual who is aware of the situation. In theory, one could name this person in the will, but with the spoken understanding that he or she will then transfer the asset to the intended recipient. The biggest flaw in this scenario is that the trusted accomplice has no legal obligation to give up the asset if he or she chooses not to.

A professional trust company may provide a more reliable result. A trust can be set up to pay out to the secret party after the gift-giver passes away. The trust is not part of the estate, and as such will not be revealed during probate or administration. An insurance policy could work in a similar manner. Unfortunately, there is always the risk that an attentive person might notice the outflow of money (assuming the bequest is monetary) from a bank account and attempt to trace it. 

Keeping a secret is a challenge at any stage in life and may continue to be so after death. Any person with a challenging estate planning situation would be well advised to speak with a lawyer about how to handle his or her unique issues. A lawyer's experience with wills and trusts in British Columbia may be the secret asset needed to be successful.

Source:, "Leaving money to a secret beneficiary is very, very tricky, experts warn", David Hodges, April 27, 2017

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