The official “reading of a will” is something that rarely occurs in real life. This isn’t to say that it never happens, but it’s usually not necessary and the law doesn’t require it. A more important consideration is when you submit the will for probate. Some states have deadlines, beyond which the process can become much more complicated, if not impossible.
Access to the Will
The reading of a will is meant to divulge its contents, but they're not usually a secret for long after the decedent's death. If your loved one left his will with his attorney for safekeeping, it’s conceivable that family members might meet at the attorney’s office to receive copies of it or to learn its terms. The decedent might have requested that his attorney formally read the document to his beneficiaries. The time frame for doing this depends on his state's deadline for probate. Otherwise, a family member usually locates the will, either among the decedent's personal papers or by petitioning the court for access to his safe deposit box. In either case, that individual can easily read the document. When the will's executor or other family member submits the will to the court for probate, it becomes a public document. Anyone can access a copy, so an official reading is no longer necessary.
Beginning with the date of the decedent's death, time frames become involved, with or without an official reading of his will. These deadlines vary a great deal by state law. For example, if your loved one died in Utah, you can wait two years before probating the will. Utah’s deadline is three years, so you have ample time. In Texas, you have four years. Some states, such as Virginia and Florida, have no statute of limitations at all. However, in other jurisdictions, waiting two years to locate the will, read it, and submit it for probate can cause problems. For example, Connecticut gives you only one month to do this.
Risks of Delay
If the decedent's will involves any assets that require transfer of title, such as real estate with a deed in his sole name, this generally can't be accomplished until the will is read, the property's beneficiary is determined, and someone -- usually the executor -- submits the will for probate. If your state has no deadline or an extended probate deadline, and if you don’t access and probate the will, the property's beneficiary can enjoy the use of the property as soon as the terms of the will are read. However, he can't sell the property or take a mortgage against it until the probate court transfers the deed out of the decedent’s name. In some states, such as Texas, the court will treat the decedent’s estate as though he had died without a will if you don't meet the probate deadline. The court will not honor the terms of a will discovered after the deadline, or the decedent's last wishes. State law determines who gets his property.
When the Will Doesn’t Matter
If your loved one left no significant assets, or if all of them are the type of assets that pass to named beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies or retirement benefits, probate is not usually necessary. In this event, the reading of his will would serve no purpose, except to determine his wishes regarding burial arrangements, if he included them. Some states, such as Connecticut, require that you file the will with the probate court anyway. As a practical matter, if you don’t meet the deadline, it would have no effect on his estate or his beneficiaries. However, you wouldn't know this unless and until the will is read.