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

Last updated: April 2023 | 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.

You may even think that a family member is hiding the Will so as not to let you know who inherits under it.

Right to be told about a Will 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 the original and follow it.

How to find out if someone has a Will

The only way to discover if someone has made a Will is to ask them. They don't have to tell you.

There are public registers of Wills, but you don't have to register your Will with one of them once you've made it.

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

In short, consulting these registers may confirm whether a Will has been made, but not finding one in a register doesn't mean there isn't one.

Who keeps the original copy of the Will?

There is no rule about who or where the original signed copy of a Will should be stored. It is very much up to the person who makes it.

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

The deceased may only have a copy at home. The executors will need the original and it should be only to them that a lawyer will release it.

Will a solicitor keep the original?

If the Will was prepared by a solicitor or a will writer, he or she may have the original document stored safely. If so, the deceased is likely to have a letter in their possession explaining how to retrieve the original Will.

Many firms of solicitors don't have a large enough safe document storage facility in their own premises, so storage is often outsourced to a specialist company. If so, it might take a couple of weeks to have the Will sent to the executors after the client's death. Usually, to request that the Will is taken out of storage, the executors need write to the solicitors, enclosing a copy of the death certificate and proof of their identity.

Do solicitors keep copies of wills?

A solicitor is likely to have a copy - at least of the unsigned Will. But bear in mind that anyone can change a Will at any time without using a solicitor, so a solicitor's copy may not be of the 'last' Will.

Who is entitled to see a Will after death

Immediately after death

After the death, but before probate is granted, the only the executors (or rather the people named executors in it) have a right to see the Will. At their discretion, they can show it to anyone else.

They'll need to send the original Will with the probate application.

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 original 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.

When is a Will read?

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.

There is no legal requirement for a Will to be read out loud.

Once an application for a grant of probate has been registered

When the process of administering the estate starts, the original Will must be registered at the Probate Registry. It then becomes a public document

Once it has, anyone can apply for a search of a grant of probate. It is the best way to know if probate has been granted. The fee for doing so is low, particularly if carried out online.

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. In particular, it might be wise to show a copy to the beneficiaries of the residue of the estate because it is an easy way of proving who was nominated as executor.

In any case, 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 (such as when contesting the validity of a Will), 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.

Reviewing and updating your will

The Law Society recommends that in relation to the question of how often should you review your Will, the answer is 'regularly' whenever a large life event occurs.

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