The truth about the Will reading…
22 November 2019 by Andrea Godfrey
Thanks mainly to television drama’s there is a myth that after someone dies, a sombre looking solicitor (normally puffing on a pipe) calls the family into his office and reads out the content of the Will followed by gasps and angry chants – perhaps with Sherlock or Poirot lurking in the background.
These days that never happens. I frequently get asked by a grieving family member as to when they can come into my office and when is Will is going to be read?
In reality the Will does not become an official document until the Court has issued the grant of probate – with the exceptional case of where the deceased is a member of the Royal Family. If we as solicitors hold the Will, we can only release it to the person appointed in the Will as the personal representatives (i.e the executor/trustee) once they have been identified and provide us with a death certificate.
The personal representative’s then control who else views the Will until the point it becomes a public document. If a beneficiary who thinks they may have been left part of the estate, ask a firm of solicitors to confirm this, the solicitor cannot provide that information without the personal representative’s agreement. Sometimes a beneficiary or a family member want to contest the Will or the fact they may not have been left an inheritance and the validity of the Will may be in question. A solicitor may provide a copy of the Will and a statement as to the circumstances surrounding the Will being made, but again the actual Will cannot be disclosed without the personal representative agreement. If they do refuse to provide the information then legal proceedings can be issued for a Court to determine the issue of disclosure.
What about disclosure of a Will where the person is still alive? If the person making the Will has mental capacity, then only they can consent to the disclosure of the contents of their will. If they lack capacity then separate rules apply but we always need to consider their initial instructions when they made the Will and can generally only release the original if ordered by the Court.