Losing a loved one is difficult, and understanding the legal processes involved can add to the stress.
If you've been named as the executor in their will, or if you're a beneficiary, you might be wondering about the process of reading the will following death.
In England and Wales, the rules of probate govern who can read a will and when. Typically, reading a will is an informal and separate process, with different individuals accessing it at various times.
To help guide you through this process, we've written this article as a resource for individuals in the UK, providing insights into who can read a will after death and the related procedures.
Reading of a will before grant of probate
When someone passes away leaving a will, the document is typically kept at their home, with a loved one, solicitor, or at a bank. Contrary to the movies, the will isn't usually revealed all at once by the executor to the beneficiaries.
The grant of probate, a legal process, is what allows the executor to administer the deceased's estate and distribute their assets. Probate becomes necessary when the deceased owns property or has a significant asset portfolio.
Before the grant of probate is issued, only the executor can access and read the will. They hold the original document and can make and share copies with the beneficiaries. However, they can't access the finances or assets detailed in the will, except for cases involving 'small estates' valued at less than £5,000.
Upon someone's passing, the executor typically informs the beneficiaries about the death, their role as executor, and what beneficiaries are set to inherit.
Reading of a will after grant of probate
When applying for a grant of probate the executor will need to arrange an interview with the Probate Registry, during this process they will review legal documents and paperwork and sign an oath.
After a grant of probate – the executor can deal with the deceased’s finances and distribute inheritance. At this point, the will becomes a public document and a copy can be requested for a £1.50 from the Probate Registry.
If no grant of probate has been requested the document will remain private, however the executor can share the will with anyone at their discretion.
It’s worth noting that before probate is granted the executor has no legal obligation to disclose the will to beneficiaries.
If the will document is being stored by a bank or solicitor, they should refuse access to the will to anyone who isn’t the executor(s).
Furthermore, only the current version of the will that has been granted probate will be accessible from the Probate Registry. If the person who died wrote an earlier will you won’t be able to get access to this.
If probate isn’t necessary a will is usually only read by the executor and those named in the will.
Probate is usually not needed when:
All property and money owned by the person who died is jointly held with at least one other person, typically a partner
The estate doesn’t include money, just personal possessions
The organisations where the deceased’s belongings and assets were held don’t request probate.
How long after death is a will read?
There's no set timeframe for reading a will after someone's death, but it's typically done soon after the executor gains access.
The speed depends on whether the executor has a copy of the will or needs to request it.
Beneficiaries can only read the will once the executor permits or after probate is granted. If the executor delays probate, legal assistance can help speed up the process.
How should a will be read?
The reading of a will in the UK is typically informal. The executor may share it in person, over the phone, or by sending a copy. They usually don't gather everyone named in the will in one place. Reading the will as soon as possible is crucial to honor the deceased's funeral wishes.
Can a beneficiary request a copy of a will?
Yes, a beneficiary can request a copy of the will from the executor, either in physical or digital form.
This allows them to understand what they are inheriting and how they will receive their inheritance.
If a beneficiary is a minor, their legal guardians will receive a copy on their behalf and explain the contents to the child.
Can an executor refuse a beneficiary's request to read a will?
The executor is not legally required to provide a copy of the will to beneficiaries, but it's typically considered best practice to do so.
If the executor refuses, beneficiaries can seek assistance from a probate solicitor to make a formal request.
If the refusal persists, a probate lawyer can file a court application, compelling the executor to obtain probate.
Once granted, the will becomes public, and anyone can request a copy. However, such court applications are rare and usually only pursued in extreme cases.
How can Lawhive help?
At Lawhive, our team of wills, trust, and probate solicitors is available to assist both executors and beneficiaries.
Whether you're navigating executor duties or have questions as a named beneficiary, we provide free case assessments to understand your unique situation and needs.