Whatever Happened to “The Reading of the Will?”

Many movies and television shows have a scene where a family gathers around a big table after a relative has died to listen to the reading of the will. While this makes for a dramatic scene, one that may have been more common when literacy rates were lower, it doesn't usually happen this way in the modern world.
Reading the will painting by Erdmann

Many movies and television shows have a scene where a family gathers around a big table after a relative has died to listen to the reading of the will. While this makes for a dramatic scene, one that may have been more common when literacy rates were lower, it doesn’t usually happen this way in the modern world. There is no requirement that a will be read out loud to anyone. So what does happen with the will?

Once the will is located, it should be given to the estate’s attorney. Instead of reading the will out loud, the estate’s attorney sends copies of the will to anyone who may have an interest in it. Obviously, the person who is named as executor or personal representative is entitled to a copy of the will. He or she is in charge of applying for probate, managing the decedent’s property, and making sure the instructions in the will get carried out. 

The estate attorney will also send a copy of the will to anyone who is named as a beneficiary. If any minor children or incapacitated individuals are named as beneficiaries, then their guardians should receive a copy of the will. In some states, anyone who would have inherited if there was no will is entitled to a copy of the will. Even if it isn’t required by law, if there is the possibility of a legal challenge to the will, the attorney may want to send a copy to any legal heirs, close family relatives, or previous beneficiaries who aren’t included in the will, so that they have notice. This will limit the time frame for them to file a will contest.

Another person who may be entitled to a copy of the will is the estate’s accountant, and if the estate is taxable, then the IRS may get a copy of the will as well. If the will funds a revocable trust, then the successor trustee of the trust is entitled to a copy of the will. Note that once a will is probated, it is available to the public and anyone can read it. 

That my friend, is a reason why I prefer Revocable Living Trusts!

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