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Keeping mum: Should you disclose you terminal illness to your family?

Gene Wilder. Robin Williams. David Bowie. As public as their lives were there was one salient piece of information they chose to keep private: Their terminal disease.

One can understand their choice--after living their lives on the covers of magazines and newspapers, didn't they have the right to die without their illnesses being available for public consumption? But is it a choice that we "civilians," as a whole, should follow?

Death is never private.

Like it or not there are two things in life that are certain: Death and taxes. And whether you choose to let loved ones know that you have a terminal disease or not, eventually, your death becomes public record through a death certificate and through estate administration.

Even those with very little tangible effects are subject to the right of representation--the law that designates who inherits your property if you die without a will. It is a very public process--one that must go through the courts, with anything and everything spelled out for anyone to see.

But can my estate be?

But your estate can be administered privately. Many options exist that eliminate any need for court intervention. Transferring property before your death is one easy alternative. A trust, which transfers property upon your death, is another.

If you want to keep your illness private, we encourage you to do so. But at the same time, we encourage you to make plans. Working with an estate planning attorney can help you keep all information private, while still allowing your family and friends to avoid the need for public disclosure after your death.

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