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; and after the Grant of Probate has been issued, the Will becomes a public document and anyone can then apply to the Probate Registry to obtain a copy of the Will so that they can read its contents. The caveat is that 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, and it will remain private.
When do you read a Will is a question that comes up a lot. The reading of a Will after death is often done by those closest to the deceased, as they are the ones who most often benefit and would generally know where the Will is kept as it is such an important legal document, and may have concerns about Inheritance Tax and would be keen to know what the Will contains, especailly if they feel they are presumed beneficiaries. Where and when are Wills read at what is a difficult time adter someone dies is normally up to the family members, although strictly speaking it should be the Executor who has the right to decide when is a Will read after the death certificate has been issued.
Only the executors appointed in a Will are entitled to read the Will before probate is granted by the Probate Registry. If anyone else asks to see the Will, it is the decision of all the named executors whether to show it, or provide a copy, to them. After the Grant of Probate is issued, and there is thus a probate record in place, anyone can obtain a copy of the Will by applying to the Probate Registry, either online or by post, and paying a nominal fee. Only the Will that has successfully gone through the probate process will become public. Any previous Wills that the deceased had written will stay private. If a Will is a public document, anyone can apply to see it - including, for example, a close friend or curious neighbours.
Applying for and obtaining a Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry can be a time consuming and frustrating process. This process isn't always necessary, however, as Probate is not always required. Whether or not probate is required depends on the assets that are held in the deceased's estate and their value. The executors of a Will have the responsibiloity for estate administration including sorting out Inheritance Tax payable and may not be able to start dealing with assets such as bank accounts and other assets held by organisations such as banks, building societies, share registrars etc. until a Grant of Probate has been obtained.
There is no specific legal requirement for an executor to disclose a Will or its terms to anyone who asks for this. If you believe you are a beneficiary of an estate and the executors refuse to disclose the contents of the Will to you, or confirm your entitlement, an option would be to make a Court application to compel the executors into obtaining probate, after which the Will would become public. This doesn't happen very often, and would normally only be a last resort. Once a Will has been published by the probate service it is no longer a private document as the probate records become public.
If you have any other questions about who can read the contents of someone's Will, please contact us and we will do our best to help you.