The Reading of a Last Will & Testament

By Beverly Bird

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.

The Effect of Probate

There is no confidentiality or privacy with a will, one of the reasons some estate planners favor revocable living trusts instead. Trusts do not have to be probated. With very few exceptions, wills do -- and once they are accepted by the court for probate, they are public knowledge. Any interested party can go to the court and request or view a copy. Beyond that, the probate laws in most states require that when a will enters probate, notice must be sent to all its beneficiaries and heirs, those who are closely related to the testator and would have inherited by rights of succession if he had died without a will. A reading of the will is not necessary for any interested party to find out what it contains.

Related Laws

Even when a will is not submitted for probate, some states have laws that require them to be placed with the court for safekeeping until probate is opened. In Florida, for instance, a will must be delivered to the court within 10 days of the testator’s death. Even if probate is not opened afterward, anyone can still pay a fee and get a copy of it.

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Suggested Etiquette

Although the reading of a will is not legally required, it may potentially avoid hard feelings among beneficiaries later, and it can set the emotional tone for the probate process. Although an executor has no legal standing or authority until a will has entered probate, she can gather family members and beneficiaries to hear the contents of it and show the respect of giving them copies. She can then take possession of the original will to file it for probate.

Practical Considerations

A gathering of next of kin to review the testator’s will also has practical considerations. Some family members might have knowledge of the deceased’s financial affairs that others do not. One of the jobs of an executor is to identify, gather and safeguard all the testator’s assets. Depending on the executor’s relationship with the deceased, he might or might not know the extent of those assets or where corresponding documentation can be located. Family members can assist with this information.

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Verifying Authenticity of a Last Will & Testament


Related articles

Are Last Wills & Testaments Public Records?

Wills start out as private legal documents instructing the executor of the will on how the testator, or the will maker, wishes to have her assets distributed upon her death. However, in the interests of justice, wills are entered into the public record when entering probate, or the process by which the will is executed after the testator's death, so all interested parties can view them.

Are Wills Public Information?

State statutes protect a will from the prying eyes of the public until a testator dies. During her lifetime, the testator can amend or revoke the will freely and confidentially as her circumstances change. Upon the testator's death, the latest version of her will moves to probate court for administration. The minute the will becomes a court document, it also becomes public information that's open to public viewing.

Executor Duties & Rights in Handling a Will

The executor is the person responsible for carrying out the instructions left in a will. The executor may be named in the will itself or may be appointed by the probate court. In order to fulfill duties as executor, the executor has certain rights. These rights are bestowed by the probate court in a document known as letters testamentary, which the executor usually petitions for when the will is filed with the court.

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