A common question that many people ask of estate planning attorneys involves the reading of the will. While questions about readings of the will are understandable, they are almost entirely misplaced because such events are really a part of the estate planning process. What we know as readings of the will are almost entirely a creation of fiction. Today, as part of our basic questions about estate planning blog series, we are going to take a look at readings of the will and why you won’t need to worry about them.
Settling the Estate
When a person dies and leaves behind property, it falls to someone else to sort out all the legal and inheritance issues left behind. The process of sorting these issues out is generally referred to as settling the estate. The laws of the state in which the person died determine what the estate settlement process looks like, and these laws determine what steps must take place.
In general, when someone dies and leaves behind an estate, part of the settlement process involves submitting the decedent’s last will and testament to a probate court so the court can determine if the will is legally valid. Probate court proceedings are open to the public, so any documents submitted to the court will similarly be open for inspection.
Further, the person who manages or settles an estate, known as the administrator, executor, or personal representative, has an obligation to notify interested parties that the estate has been opened and is going through the settlement process. The administrator will also notify potential creditors, and the administrator will publish a legal notice in a newspaper stating that the estate has been opened.
Once all interested parties have been notified, the administrator will then begin the process of determining who is entitled to receive what property and go about the process of actually distributing that property to the rightful new owners.
Reading of the Will and Modern Probate
If you notice from our abbreviated discussion of the probate process, there was no part in which the attorney or estate representative gathered the family together to read the terms of the decedent’s last will and testament. This is true for several reasons.
First, many people die without leaving behind a last will and testament, and there is simply not a will to read. Second, no state imposes a requirement for the estate administrator to have a reading of the will. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the last will and testament becomes part of the court record, anyone who is interested can decide to read the will whenever he or she likes. There is simply no need to go through the cumbersome and unnecessary process of gathering people together to read the terms of a document that is already a matter of public record.