What Can We Learn from the L.L. Bean Heiress? How private are Florida probate records?

Linda Bean, granddaughter of the L.L. Bean founder, Leon Leonwood Bean (how fun would it be if the entire family had the initials L.L. Bean!), died on March 23, 2024, at the age of 82. Linda drafted a last will in August of 2022….that no one is challenging!

However, the last will needed to be probated (tisk tisk tisk), and the attorney representing the estate moved not only to have the probate records hidden, but also requested that the petition requesting that the records be hidden from public view would be sealed (they don’t want proof that they requested the records be hidden??).

Well, the Maine probate Judge would have none of it and ruled that a will is a public document. The Judge said that if Bean had wanted the distribution of her estate to be private, she could have addressed that during her estate planning (Yikes! True, but Yikes!). This is a good time to shout out to those probate Judges that are the best Judges ever, in my opinion!

What Can We Learn from This Public Probate Lesson?

We can discuss how Florida deals with making last wills private.

Florida Probate Records: An Overview

Florida probate records have historically been kept by county judges and county clerks in each courthouse. Since 1968, they have been under the jurisdiction of the clerk of the circuit court in each county. The probate records (files) that the clerks keep include:

  • Petitions
  • Last wills
  • Estate inventories
  • Letters testamentary or letters of administration
  • Orders
  • Final accounting and settlements

Public Nature of Florida Probate Records

Florida probate records are indeed public. They become a part of the public record upon filing with the court. However, depending on the probate court and jurisdiction, there may be varying levels of accessibility to the probate records.

Typically, inventories and accountings filed in estates are confidential and may be viewed only by:

  • The personal representative
  • The personal representative’s attorney
  • An “interested party,” as defined in the Florida probate laws

However, last wills are of public interest. “Public” does not mean that a will is broadcast for the whole world to access. Florida wills and other probate records are not directly available via the Internet, but anyone who shows up at the clerk’s office and asks to see the will is able to do so. If a third party obtains a copy of a will and decides to publish it in a public forum, there is no law that prohibits such actions.

Judges’ Authority to Seal Probate Records

Judges do have the authority to seal probate records on a case-by-case basis if there is just cause to do so. That authority is rarely used and is limited to extreme circumstances, such as when access to probate records could jeopardize another ongoing legal matter—not typically because the decedent was a celebrity or “a very private individual.”

What’s a Celebrity or Very Private Individual to Do?

The most effective way to pass on your estate while keeping the details of your holdings private is to remove the need for probate court involvement via a trust-based estate plan. The trust immediately transfers control of assets to the successor trustee for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

The trust document is similar to a will because it states how property is to be divided, how funds should be invested, and who will receive assets. However, everything in a trust passes outside of probate. Since the trust document is not filed in probate court, most of the information is not made public, and folks cannot request to see it without good reason.


So, there you have it. We learn that a last will doesn’t give us much privacy and that a trust is a better tool if we’re very private individuals (or celebrities).

Portrait of Odelia Goldberg, Esq.

With over 50 years of combined experience, our probate, estate planning, real estate, elder law and asset protection attorneys provide peace of mind for our clients throughout South Florida.

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