Who is entitled to read a will after death?
23 August 2021
In England and Wales, who is entitled to read a Will depends on whether or not robate has been granted. Before the grant of probate is issued, only the executors named in the will are entitled to read the will. After the grant of probate has been issued, the will becomes a public document and anyone can then apply to the Probate Registry for a copy of it.
If a grant of probate hasn't been applied for and the will has not been provided to the Probate Registry, it will not become a public document.
The executor is entitled to read the will
When dealing with the estate of someone who's died, it is important to ensure that everyone involved knows where they stand in respect of the will.
The executor is the person appointed in the will to administer the estate (this is everything the person owned when they died).
The executor has a number of important duties to carry out. One of these duties is to contact the beneficiaries to notify them of:
- The deceased's death
- The appointment of the executor
- What they are entitled to inherit
For more information on the full scope of the executor's role, see executor duties explained.
Who else can read the will?
Only the executors appointed in the will are entitled to read the will before probate is granted. If anyone else asks to see the will, the person or organisation storing it (such as a bank or solicitor) shouldn't show it to them or provide a copy without the permission of all named executors.
Once the grant of probate is issued, the will becomes a public document. Anyone can then obtain a copy by applying to the Probate Registry and paying the appropriate fee.
It is important to note that only the current will that has been provided to the Probate Registry will become public. Any previous will that the individual had written will remain private.
Additionally, if a grant of probate is not needed, the will remains private, although the executor will normally show the will to the beneficiaries. So, if proabte isn't needed, the will would not usually be seen by anyone who is not named in the will.
Whether or not probate is required depends on what the person owned when they died. Small estates, without property, under a certain value might be able to be distributed without needing probate.
If probate is needed, the executor may not be able to start dealing with assets which are held by organisations (like banks, building societies and share registrars) until they have the grant of probate. For more information, see why is probate not required on a small estate?
Can a beneficiary request a copy of the will?
There is no specific legal requirement for an executor to disclose a will or its terms to anyone who asks for this. However a beneficiary can ask for a copy of the will.
If a beneficiary asks to see the will and the executor refuses, they can choose to instruct a solicitor, who can make a formal request for this.
What to do if requests are ignored
If the executor ignores all requests, a further option would be to make a court application to compel the executor into getting probate, after which the will would become public. This doesn't happen very often, and would normally only be a last resort.