Can an Executor Read a Will Before a Person Dies?

By Brenna Davis

In books and in movies, the contents of wills often come as a shock to the family. But in real life, wills are often heavily discussed prior to the will maker's -- also known as the "testator"-- death. Executors are neither legally entitled to read the will nor legally prohibited from doing so, and whether or not an executor reads a will is likely to depend on the executor's relationship with the testator.

Role of Executor

Executors have many roles: they must notify insurance companies and financial institutions of the testator's death, locate safety deposit boxes, pay off debts and ensure that beneficiaries receive what is left to them in the will. Some wills allow executors to make judgment calls about who gets what, and other wills are very specific. Family members with business or legal backgrounds may be appointed as executors while some people choose to use lawyers or professional will executors.

Reading the Will

Particularly when there is a large estate involved, there may be a formal will reading scheduled with an attorney shortly after the death of the testator. However, any person may read the will before the death of the testator if the testator allows them to. The executor has no right to read the will prior to the death of the testator, but because many executors are family members, the testator may discuss the will with or read the will to the executor. Often, discussing a will with family members prior to death can decrease friction.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Sealed Wills

Wills do not become public records until after the will is filed with the probate court. Thus, executors have no right to read a will before the testator's death. Some people opt to write sealed wills, and give only one sealed copy to a lawyer, accountant or other person for safekeeping. They may even add a provision to the will dictating that no one must read it or else the will becomes void. These provisions, however, can be difficult to enforce and can lead to a messy fight over the will.

Potential Problems

When a family discusses a will together, it can be helpful to have the executor there. If, however, the executor is the only person who sees the will prior to the death of the testator, or the executor benefits substantially from the will, family members may attempt to fight the will. Executors should ensure they do nothing that creates the appearance they are unduly influencing the testator, and executors who stand to benefit from the will may want to suggest that someone else be named as executor.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
When Are Wills Made Public?

References

Related articles

What Happens When an Executor of a Will Doesn't Carry Out What the Will Asks For?

A last will and testament represents the final wishes of a deceased person, and laws are in place to ensure that the instructions set out in the will are actually carried out. While these laws vary by state, you will find that every state regulates how a will is administered and who is responsible for it.

What if an Executor of an Estate Destroys the Decedent's Last Will & Testament?

When a person draws up her will, she may think her work is done. A valid will sets out a road map as to what will happen to her property when she dies, naming beneficiaries and an executor to shepherd the will through probate. However, it is possible that an executor could destroy a will with or without the maker's consent.

Is It Illegal to Copy Last Will & Testament Papers?

As long as you have the right to use the copy machine, no penalties attach to copying your last will and testament. In fact, it may be prudent for someone making a will to provide a copy of the document to her spouse, attorney and the person she names as executor. In most cases, however, the original will, not a copy, must be filed with the court for probate.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Can You Get a Copy of a Will Before Someone Dies?

A will is not actually permanent until its writer, called a testator, dies. Thus, while a testator can allow others to ...

Who Enforces the Execution of a Will?

In drafting your will, you may appoint a person to serve as your executor, also known as a personal representative. ...

How to Find Out If You Are a Beneficiary in a Final Will When a Relative Dies

During a person's lifetime, her will is private; she determines who views the document. After she dies, the will ...

An Executor's Duties to a Beneficiary

Executors are individuals who are appointed through a will to ensure the wishes of the testator, person who created the ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED