Reading of Wills After Death

By Tom Streissguth

The reading of a will is a familiar scene in movies and mystery novels. Although it makes a handy and rather dramatic plot device, the reading of a last will and testament is a relic of the past and no longer a feature of estate law.

The reading of a will is a familiar scene in movies and mystery novels. Although it makes a handy and rather dramatic plot device, the reading of a last will and testament is a relic of the past and no longer a feature of estate law.


At one time, last wills and testaments were sometimes read aloud to members of the immediate family and other beneficiaries. This was necessary in an era when legal documents were more difficult to copy, mail, and distribute, and when illiteracy was more widespread, prompting the public reading of such documents to people concerned in a legal action.

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Contemporary Practice

In the 21st century, lawyers do not normally read wills and no state requires either a public or private reading of a will to beneficiaries of an estate. Beneficiaries may request a conference at which the will can be discussed and points of the will read aloud, but estate attorneys won't generally arrange time for a complete reading, as they feel it is a waste of their time and resources.

Distribution of the Will

The attorney charged with handling the state, who is legally designated as the personal representative of the deceased, must oversee the delivery of copies of the will to the beneficiaries and, if necessary, the recording of the document with a court clerk. The attorney may also distribute copies to beneficiaries of previous wills who may have been deleted from the current will to expedite any contest of the will by those who have been disinherited.

Probate Court

When a will is submitted to probate court, the court rules on its provisions and authorizes the personal representative of the estate to oversee the distribution of assets. The will becomes a public document and the clerk of court must make it available to anyone who wishes to read it. Beneficiaries may request that the court seal the record, but must provide good cause for doing so and submit to the judge’s decision.

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Reading of Wills in Utah



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What if a Beneficiary Steals From the Estate?

An estate is created when someone dies. By the terms of a will, estate assets pass to heirs and beneficiaries. If someone named as a beneficiary gets up to fraud, larceny or theft of estate assets, he's subject to criminal charges brought by other heirs or by a prosecutor. If that same individual has been named as a personal representative or executor of the estate, state law would also provide sanctions such as fines, court costs and restitution.

The Reading of a Last Will & Testament

The reading of a will is a question of etiquette more than law. As of 2010, no states legally require that a will must be read to family members or beneficiaries. In most cases, a family member finds the will after the decedent’s death and knows immediately upon opening it what it contains and who its beneficiaries are. The laws in most states are set up to prevent a beneficiary or heir from “hiding” a will or keeping it secret from other family members.

Why Do People Contest Wills?

According to the Legal Awareness Series, Inc., people contest wills more often than any other document, despite the difficulty of winning a will contest. If the terms of a will are completely at odds with what you think the deceased would have wanted, it might be worthwhile to challenge it. Anyone who contests a will has to have legal standing, meaning that they are a beneficiary listed in the will, or should have been. The time limits and court rules for doing this vary from state to state, but as a general rule, you might not have a lot of time.

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