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Are you entitled to see someone’s Will after they die?12th February 2021 Will Disputes
After a loved one has passed away and it comes time for their estate to be dealt with, family members and those closest to the person who died will often want to see a copy of their Will to find out whether they are due to inherit any money or possessions or just to satisfy themselves as to what the deceased wanted to happen to their assets.
Before the death of an individual, their Will is a private document and, as such, there is no requirement for them to register it anywhere or share it with anyone. Most people will keep their Will at home with any other important papers, or may choose to store the original with the solicitor or Will writer that assisted with the preparation. After death, the position changes.
Before a Grant of Probate
From death until an application for a grant of probate has been made, only the executor(s) named in the Will are entitled to see the Will.
While the beneficiaries of a Will do not have the right to view the Will itself, they are entitled to certain information, for example details of a specific legacy if they have been left one or, if they have been left the residuary estate (namely what remains in the estate once any debts and specific legacies have been paid), they have the right to know who the executors are and to be provided with an estimate for how long the administration of the estate may take.
What if you are not named in the Will?
If you are not named in the Will, you can request a copy from the executors. While not obliged to provide it, executors should adopt a reasonable approach and provide a copy to those that request one (unless there is a good reason not to), either as a means of reassuring beneficiaries or determining if a genuine dispute exists concerning the validity of the Will. It serves little benefit for the executors to delay access to a copy of the Will when it will become publicly available after the grant of probate. It is also possible to set up a standing search with the Probate Registry to ask that a copy of the Will is sent to you if and when probate is granted.
After a Grant of Probate has been issued
Once probate has been granted, the Will becomes a public document and is registered at the Probate Registry. At this point, anybody can obtain a copy of the Will by applying to the Probate Registry either online or by post and paying a fee.
There may be circumstances where a grant of probate is not required for the executors to distribute the estate in question. In these situations, the Will remains a private document and it remains at the discretion of the executors if a copy is provided to any party that requests sight of the Will.
If you have concerns about the validity of somebody’s Will and the executor is refusing to provide you with a copy, or if you are the executor of a Will and you are unsure if you should provide someone with a copy of a Will, you should obtain specialist advice and assistance at the earliest opportunity. Challenges as to the validity of a Will can be complex and it is therefore important to seek expert legal advice before deciding whether to proceed with, or defend, such a challenge.