Under Probate Rule 92.10(b), “Members of the general public and Registered Filers not affiliated with a matter shall have remote access to all Public Records in any matter, subject to the redaction of Private Information on Public Records pursuant to Rule 92.12.” (emphasis added). The Advisory Committee explained:
Everyone, including members of the general public and Registered Filers not affiliated with a matter, will have remote access to all the Public Records, subject to the redaction of Social Security numbers of living individuals and banking/brokerage account numbers on Public Records as outlined in Private Information in Rule 92.12.
M.R.Prob.P. 92.12 advisory committee’s notes to 2011 amend., Nov. 2011 (emphasis added).
The Rules identify a few categories of non-public records and information. Rule 92.12(a) lists four types of “Private Records.” “‘Private Records’ means (1) all records and documents (electronic or nonelectronic) relating to an adoption proceeding; (2) Certificates of Value (Probate Form DE-401A); (3) Physicians’ and Psychologists’ Reports (Probate Form PP-505); and (4) any record or document designated as a Private Record by the Probate Court.” M.R.Prob.P. 92.12(a). The Probate Rules also make confidential a few categories of information, labeled “Private Information,” (1) Social Security numbers of living individuals; (2) banking/brokerage account numbers; and (3) any other information designated as Private Information by the Probate Court. M.R.Prob.P. 92.12(c). The burden of redacting this information from court filings falls on those responsible for making filings with the Court.
The registers of probate must maintain a docket of all probate cases and to make that information public. “Registers of probate shall keep a docket of all probate cases and, under the appropriate heading of each case, make entries of each motion, order, decree and proceeding so that at all times the docket shows the exact condition of each case.” 18-A M.R.S. § 1-503. The register is also empowered to audit accounts filed with the court when requested by a probate judge. “Any register may act as an auditor of accounts when requested to do so by the judge . . . .” Id. All of these records are public. “The register shall maintain records and files and provides copies of documents . . . .” 18-A M.R.S. § 1-305. The register of probate is charged with making copies of “records of the court” and charging a fee for doing so. 18-A M.R.S. § 1-602(3). The statute allows any member of the public to request copies.
Exceptions to this rule of public access include records of adoptions decreed on or after August 8, 1953, are generally confidential. 18-A M.R.S. § 9-310. Further, [t]he Probate Court shall keep records of those adoptions segregated from all other court records.” Id. This segregation is necessary because other probate court records are public. Information obtained as part of a background check on prospective adoptive parents is also generally confidential. 18-A M.R.S. § 9-304(a-1)(vi). The court may seal the name of the petitioner and the adoptee in a decree containing the new name of the adoptee “[i]f the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child. . . .” 18-A M.R.S. § 9-308(c).
Certain wills filed with the court for safekeeping are also designated as confidential. 18-A M.R.S. § 2-901. A will deposited with the court in the office of the register of probate before September 19, 1997, “may be delivered only to the testator or to a person authorized in writing signed by the testator to receive the will.” Id. Further, “[a] conservator may be allowed to examine a deposited will of a protected testator under procedures designed to maintain the confidential character of the document to the extent possible and to ensure that it will be resealed and left on deposit after the examination.” Id.
The probate court may also seal records of proceedings related to petitions for a name change. 18-A M.R.S. § 1-701. The court may only do so to protect the personal safety of the person petitioning for a name change. Id. at 1-701(b), (c). “[T]he judge may seal the records of the name change” where the judge has found by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the person is a victim of abuse; and (2) the person is currently in reasonable fear of the person’s safety. Id.