Should a beneficiary or an executor be given a copy of the will?

| 3 min read

If you think that you have been left money or possessions by a person who has died, or if you are surprised that someone else has, you might consider looking at the will to reassure yourself that the gift was intended by the deceased.

Before the death

A will is a private document. As such, its not necessary when you make one to register it or provide a copy of it to any organisation. Some people do, however, to make it easier for executors to find it and follow it.

Some registers only tell you where it is stored, not what the contents are.

Most people keep their will at home with other important papers. The executors and key beneficiaries may be told where it is, and generally what the contents are.

If the will was prepared by a solicitor or a will writer, he or she may have the original document stored safely. The deceased may have a copy. The executors will need the original and it should be only to them that a lawyer will release it.

Immediately after death

After the death, but before probate is granted, the only people with a right to see the will are the executors named in it. At their discretion, they can show it to anyone else.

Beneficiaries of specific gifts have no right to see it, regardless of the value of the gift, nor do anyone who is not a beneficiary but feels that he or she should be.

Beneficiaries of the residuary of the estate (what is left once debts have been repaid and specific gifts have been made) are not entitled to see the will, but do have the right to know who the executors are, and estimates of how long probate might take and when the residuary estate might be distributed.

Wills tend not to be read out loud in a formal reading session with all the grieving family present. While we see such depictions on TV, in reality it is very rare.

Once an application for a grant of probate has been registered

When the process of administering the estate starts, the will must be registered at the Probate Registry. Once it has, anyone can apply for a search of a grant of probate, currently for a fee of £10.

The Probate Registry searches their records and provides you with a copy of the grant and a copy of the last will and testament associated with that grant. If the deceased person died without having made a will, then the Registry will provide a copy of the grant of letters of administration.

Before a grant has been given, the Registry will not have a record of the estate, and therefore cannot provide the will.

If the Probate Registry does not have any records of the death, then it automatically sets us a standing search for a period of six months, which can be extended (renewed) if the fee is paid again. The standing search is a regular search. If a grant is issued within the search period, the applicant is sent a copy of it.

Should an executor let other people see the will?

This may seem like a difficult decision.

Someone who demands to see the will may not have been on good terms with the deceased (or still, with the remaining family members and other beneficiaries).
As an executor, you may feel that showing the will is likely to cause more disruption between these people. Or you may feel that you may give some sensitive information away that might lead to a formal dispute (contesting it) if you do.

Most solicitors would advise that you should release a copy before probate being granted, either to reassure beneficiaries, or if there could be a genuine dispute over whether it exists or whether it is valid.

The reason for this advice is that the will becomes a publicly available document once a grant of probate is made, so all that withholding the will does is to delay the time from which it can be inspected. There is little advantage to such as delay if the will is going to be contested, and withholding it may make someone who feels that they have been wronged more determined to pursue action.

In all litigation, an attempt at early resolution out of court is viewed favourably. Not providing the will, and therefore not being able to settle earlier (and at lower costs to both sides) is not likely to win the sympathy of the judge.

Its also human nature to assume that something is wrong if information is withheld. Showing that there is nothing to hide – no secrets – actually can make the executors lives easier by allowing them to get on with the job, rather than fielding questions from worried but persistent beneficiaries or family members.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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