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Julie Garber

What Happens at the Reading of a Will?

By December 15, 2008

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This is really a trick question - while you've probably watched in the movies or read in a book about "the reading of a Will," this is purely a fictional device used to create drama and tension within the story being told. In reality, today there's no legal requirement that the estate attorney has to read the Last Will and Testament out loud to anyone - I've never done it and I've never witnessed any other attorneys doing it. Instead, the estate attorney must decide who is entitled to receive a copy of the Will so that they can read it themselves.

The first people that logically come to mind are the Personal Representative and beneficiaries named in the Will. Of course they're entitled to receive a copy of the Will. Not so obvious is the accountant for the estate - the accountant needs to read and understand what the Will provides with regard to the payment of claims filed against the estate as well as the payment of estate and income taxes.

The estate attorney must also be wary of a disinherited heir at law or a disinherited beneficiary named in a prior Will challenging the validity of the current Will. If the attorney believes that a will contest is going to be filed, then the attorney can send a copy of the current Will to the disinherited heirs at law or to the disinherited beneficiaries named in the prior Will in order to limit their time frame for filing a will contest.

Of course, once a Last Will and Testament has been admitted to probate, it becomes a public record for anyone to see and read. In certain circumstances the beneficiaries of the Will can ask the probate judge to seal the court records to prevent the public from reading the Will and other probate documents, but the judge will grant this request only in rare situations.

Further Reading

Join the discussion in the Forum - Am I on the Will?
Comments
November 25, 2010 at 9:49 am
(1) Richard Andrews says:

Hi Julie:

My practice is located in Ontario. I still get asked from time to time about the reading of the will. Just this week in fact. It never happens here either.

I believe the practice of reading the will arose in the days when illiteracy was more prevalent than it is today. Reading the document aloud, in the presence of witnesses, obviously was designed to avoid confusion and disagreements about the contents of the will, and who got what.

Good blog. Keep it up.

November 26, 2010 at 6:32 pm
(2) Julie Ann Garber, Esq. says:

Hi Richard, thanks for the information about what is the practice in Ontario – good information for Canadian readers. I have not received a request to have “a reading of the will” in a long time, and I never thought about literacy issues – that really does make sense.

Sincerely,

Julie Ann Garber, Esq.
Your Guide to Wills & Estate Planning
email: wills.guide@about.com
http://wills.about.com

The information contained in this comment is not legal advice or tax advice. For legal advice please consult with an attorney and for tax advice please consult with an accountant.

June 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm
(3) tammy says:

My mother passed away 4 weeks ago. Her husband is still here. Do mom’s childern have a right to see the will? We children know they have a joint will.

June 6, 2012 at 8:43 am
(4) Julie Ann Garber, Esq. says:

Hi Tammy, please accept my condolences on your loss. I do not know what you mean by a joint will, but if your mother did have a will and any of her property needs to be probated, then the will becomes a public court record when it is filed for probate and anyone (including me) can request a copy of it. But if none of your mother’s property needs to be probated, then her will may not be filed with the probate court and the only to see it is to ask your stepfather to see it.

These articles may help:

Who Gets a Copy of a Will?
What is Probate?
When is Probate Necessary?
What is Probate Property?
What is Non Probate Property?

Best regards,

Julie Ann Garber, Esq.
Attorney, Becker & Poliakoff, P.A.
Guide to Wills & Estate Planning
http://wills.about.com
About.com | Need. Know. Accomplish.
About.com is part of the New York Times Company

The information contained in this comment is not legal or tax advice and is not a
substitute for legal or tax advice. For legal advice, please consult with an
attorney. For tax advice, please consult with an accountant or tax attorney.

June 13, 2012 at 1:27 am
(5) Hannah says:

Hi Julie,
I am trying to write a screenplay in which one of my characters leaves his family business in control of his two surviving children. I would like to display it as accurately as possible. In the story the two children do not know about each other as the one child is an illegitimate child from an affair. Any advice or further reading is appreciated.
Thank you
Hannah

June 13, 2012 at 9:25 am
(6) Julie Ann Garber, Esq. says:

Hi Hannah, let me think about your question and get back to you!

Best regards,

Julie Ann Garber, Esq.
Attorney, Becker & Poliakoff, P.A.
Guide to Wills & Estate Planning
http://wills.about.com
About.com | Need. Know. Accomplish.
About.com is part of the New York Times Company

The information contained in this comment is not legal or tax advice and is not a
substitute for legal or tax advice. For legal advice, please consult with an
attorney. For tax advice, please consult with an accountant or tax attorney.

September 23, 2012 at 7:22 pm
(7) Jeni says:

Hi Julie:

My ex-husband recently passed away and he is survived by his wife and three minor children, one of whom is my son. How would I go about requesting information on my son’s behalf? Would I be entitled to receive a copy of his will? Also, per our separation agreement, he has a life insurance policy with my son listed as beneficiary and me as trustee. Would this sort of information be covered in the will?

Thanks very much.

September 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm
(8) Julie Ann Garber, Esq. says:

Hi Jeni, it is in your best interest to consult with a probate attorney in the state where your ex-husband lived in order to understand your rights, duties and obligations as the natural guardian of your minor son who may be a beneficiary under his father’s last will and testament. If you need assistance with locating a qualified attorney, the following article deals with locating an estate planning attorney, but the same concepts can be used for locating a probate attorney:

7 Tips for Finding an Estate Planning Attorney

With regard to the life insurance policy, in general that would not be covered by the will because the policy will have a beneficiary designated with the insurance company. If you have any information about the policy, then you can contact the insurance company on behalf of your son and let them know that the person insured under the policy has died and they will let you know the process for claiming the death benefit.

Best regards,

Julie Ann Garber, Esq.
Attorney, Becker & Poliakoff, P.A.
Guide to Wills & Estate Planning
http://wills.about.com
About.com | Need. Know. Accomplish.
About.com is part of the New York Times Company

The information contained in this comment is not legal or tax advice and is not a
substitute for legal or tax advice. For legal advice, please consult with an
attorney. For tax advice, please consult with an accountant or tax attorney.

January 7, 2014 at 11:45 am
(9) summer says:

I have more of a question. My birth father has passed recently and he had a will. Well my question is who is suppose to contact you and how long do they have to find someone? I was adopted by my great uncle and the family is tell me i might be in it. How do i obtain a copy of the will or can i?

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