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The Reading Of The Will

Everyone will have seen it in the movies; a gathering of potential beneficiaries gathered in a solicitor’s office, listening to the formal reading of the will of their recently deceased relative. It’s an evocative image, and one that many people believe is the truth, but the reality is that this does not happen – there is no actual formal reading of the will, and certainly not all of the beneficiaries need to be together when the will is looked at.

Since the fiction and the fact get so confused on this matter, what does actually happen when the contents of the will are discovered?

Firstly, the testator must be dead before the will can be read by anyone else. No one has the right to see (and certainly not to influence) the will before the testator dies, and, unless the testator themselves wants to show it to others, then it should be kept in a safe place, ideally under lock and key. It is also important to remember, on a similar point, that nothing in the will can come to pass until the testator is dead. Once they have died, the contents of the will can come into effect, thanks to the efforts of the executor.

Another important piece of advice: again, the movies have a lot to answer for as you will often see that wills are read out after the funeral service. Since many people include directions for their funerals within their wills, this would be a mistake, and the will should be read as soon after the death as possible. If the executor is not the person arranging the funeral then the person who is dealing with it should be allowed to see the part of the will pertaining to the service and instructions on what should be done with the body. They won’t need to see the rest of the will.

Generally, the executor is the only person who will (and must) read the will. If they then choose to allow others to read it, then that is their choice, but there is no law that says they must, and if they feel that it would do more harm than good, then they are well within their rights to refuse if they are asked, even if that person is a family member.

Although they may not be entitled to see the will, any beneficiary is of course entitled to find out what they are to receive from the estate, and they must therefore be informed that they are a beneficiary. This does not mean that they need to be given a copy of the will, or shown the original will, however; they can simply be told of the contents. Plus, they only need to know what they are receiving, and not what anyone else who is mentioned in the will will get.

After probate is completed, the original will is submitted to the Probate Registry, and it becomes a public document so anyone, whether they are involved in the estate or not, can see what was written in it.

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020 8150 2010

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