Does a Will Become Public after Death?
12 December 2019
If Probate is needed to administer your Estate after you die, then your Will becomes a public document and anyone can apply for a copy. It's important to bear this in mind when you write your Will, and avoid including any information that you wish to keep private.
If you do want to include information that you don't want to become public, you can make a Letter of Wishes to store alongside your Will. This will remain private from anyone other than the people it's addressed to.
When Does a Will become Public?
When someone dies, it's necessary to find out whether a Grant of Probate is needed to administer their Estate. This will determine whether or not a Will becomes public after death.
A Grant of Probate is a legal document issued by the Probate Registry. This document gives the appropriate person legal authority to administer the Estate. Generally speaking, your Estate is everything you own at the time of your death, such as savings in the bank, property, vehicles and other personal possessions including pets.
When you make a Will, you can name Executors – these will be the people responsible for applying for the Grant of Probate (if it's needed) and administering your Estate.
Whether or not Probate is needed will depend on what you own at the time of your death. If Probate is required, the Executors of your Will may not be able to start dealing with your assets until the Grant of Probate has been obtained.
When applying to the Probate Registry for the Grant of Probate, your Executors also need to enclose your original Will. This must be the latest and most up-to-date version of the Will. Once the Will has been lodged with the Probate Registry, it becomes a public document and anyone can apply for a copy through the gov.uk website for a fee.
Only Wills that are sent to the Probate Registry become public. This means the Will that is in place when you die becomes public, but any Wills that you have written previously will remain private given they were voided by the new Will.
If a Grant of Probate isn't needed, your Will remains private between your Executors and the Beneficiaries named within it.
A Letter of Wishes Remains Private
Knowing that your Will becomes a public document after your death might cause you some concern, as there may be things that you don't want to become common knowledge. This might include reasons why you've excluded certain individuals or personal statements of affection to your loved ones.
However, there is a way round this, and that is to put a Letter of Wishes alongside your Will. A Letter of Wishes is a letter written by you, and can be addressed to your Executors, your beneficiaries or anyone else that you’d like to communicate your wishes or thoughts to after your death.
Unlike a Will, a Letter of Wishes is not legally binding and remains private. Therefore it’s an excellent way to express certain information, as you can rest assured that it won’t be placed in the public domain after your death.
It’s best to store your Letter of Wishes with your Will, as it makes it easier for your Executors to find. When you make a Will with Co-op Legal Services, we’ll store your Letter of Wishes alongside your Will, free of charge.
For a more detailed explanation of what a Letter of Wishes can do to help you and the Executor of your Estate, see What is a Letter of Wishes?
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