Who Is Entitled to Read a Will after Death?

03 December 2019

In England and Wales, who is entitled to read a Will depends on whether or not Probate 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 the Will.

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's Duty

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. The word 'Estate' means everything the deceased person owned at the time of their death, less any liabilities or debts.

The Executor has a number of important duties to carry out. One of these duties is to advise all of the Beneficiaries of the following:

  • The deceased's death
  • The appointment of themselves as an Executor
  • Their inheritance – be it a specific item, cash sum or share of the Estate

For more information on the full scope of the Executor's role, see Executor Duties Explained.

Who Can Read the Will?

Only the Executors appointed in a Will are entitled to read the Will before Probate is

Only the Executors appointed in a Will are entitled to read the Will before Probate is granted by the Probate Registry (Court). If anyone else asks to see the Will, the person or organisation storing it (such as the deceased's bank or Solicitor) should not 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 deceased had written remains private.

Additionally, if a Grant of Probate is not required, the Will remains private. The Executor will normally share the Will with the Beneficiaries named in the Will. If Probate isn't required, then the Will would not usually be seen by anyone who is not named in the Will.

Whether or not Probate is required depends on the assets that are held in the Estate and the value of these. The Executor of a Will may not be able to start dealing with assets which are held by organisations (like banks, building societies, share registrars etc.) until a Grant of Probate has been obtained. Probate will also be required to deal with any property owned in the sole name of the deceased. For more information, see Why is Probate Not Required on a Small Estate?

With our Fixed Fee Probate Service we take full responsibility for getting Grant of Probate and dealing with the Legal, Tax (excluding VAT), Property and Estate Administration affairs*.

How to 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, as a Beneficiary, you can ask for disclosure of the contents and to be supplied with a copy of the Will.

If you are a Beneficiary of an Estate and the Executor refuses to disclose the Will or confirm your entitlement, you may want to consider instructing a Solicitor. The Solicitor would then be able to make a formal request in writing for you to have sight of the Will.

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.

*We can also pay all the costs of a Co-op Funeralcare funeral, providing the Estate owns sufficient assets which can be sold in due course to repay our costs.

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