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Who Is Entitled to Read a Will after Death?

9th July 2018

By Trainee Solicitor, Franklyn Jones

In England and Wales, before the Grant of Probate has been issued by the Probate Registry (Court), only those named in the Will as Executors 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 the Will has not been provided to the Probate Registry, it will not become a public document.

For free initial advice and guidance call our Probate Advisors on 03306069584 or contact us online and we will help you.

The Executor's Duty

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

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 person has a duty to advise all of the deceased's next of kin and 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.

Who Can Read the Will?

Only the Executors appointed in a Will are entitled to read the Will before Probate is granted. If someone who is not an Executor asks to see the Will, the person or organisation storing the Will (such as the deceased's bank or Solicitor) cannot allow them to see it or have a copy, unless the Executor/s agree.

Once the Grant of Probate is issued, the Will becomes a public document and anyone can obtain a copy by applying to the Probate Registry and paying the appropriate fee. It is important to note that only Wills provided to the Probate Registry become public. Any Will that the deceased had written previously will remain private.

Additionally, if a Grant of Probate is not required, the Will remains private. The Executor can choose to share the Will with the Beneficiaries named in the Will, but it would not usually be seen by anyone who is not named in the Will.

Whether or not Probate is required depends on the value and complexity of the Estate. The Executors 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. 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, the next step would be for Court proceedings to be issued. This would usually include a claim for the Court costs to be met by the Executor, particularly if the Court determines that the Executor is acting obstructively. Please note, issuing Court proceedings should be considered as the final option for Beneficiaries seeking to have a sight of the Will.

If a Beneficiary is still not able to read the Will, a caveat could be placed on the Estate to prevent the issue of the Grant of Probate. This would means the Executor/s will not be able to distribute any of the Estate funds. This is not a scenario many Executors or Beneficiaries would want to happen, so disclosure of the Will would normally take place if this option is suggested.

To speak with a Co-op Probate Advisor call 03306069584 or contact us online and we will call you.

*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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