When someone very close to you dies and you're not named as an executor in their Will, you may wonder how do you know if you are named in a Will for sure and do beneficiaries have a right to see the Will and if so, when?
These are frequently asked questions that most assumed beneficiaries will, understandably, perhaps feel too awkward and uncomfortable to ask an executor outright.
Who can see a Will after death will initially depend on approval by the executors and/or how an estate is administered, i.e. whether or not Probate is required and applied for.
To explain the confusing legal jargon we've broken down each one below:
An executor is a person who is legally appointed in a Will to responsibly sort out a person’s estate after their death and, if necessary, pay any Inheritance Tax. If there is no Will, what would’ve been called an executor will sometimes instead be referred to as an ‘administrator’ - typically the next of kin - who may also need to apply for probate (also known as ‘letters of administration’). An executor of a Will is usually a solicitor, close relative or trusted friend. Very often there is more than one executor - even several - and very often a combination of executors such as a solicitor and a close relative who will jointly oversee the administration of the estate.
Estate means absolutely everything the deceased owned including all financial assets such as shares, premium bonds and life insurance, cash held in bank accounts or stored in a safe or under a mattress at home, property, debts owed to the deceased or debts the deceased owes to others, and personal possessions such as their car, furniture, antiques or jewellery.
Administration means sorting out a deceased person’s legal and tax affairs by carrying out various administrative tasks such as writing letters to banks, building societies, utility companies, debtors, Probate Registry and beneficiaries, preparing estate accounts documenting all the deceased assets and liabilities, and calculating and paying inheritance tax.
Probate is a legal certificate to authorise administration of an estate and is what an executor or administrator will typically need to apply for if the deceased has significant financial assets (such as a lot of money or shares) and property (such as their home), usually in their sole name. Where the deceased’s assets or property are jointly owned, or if the estate value is fairly small, probate is not usually necessary. Whether or not probate is required can also depend on the requirements of the deceased’s bank, building society or share account holders. An executor will write to the deceased’s bank and other financial institutions to send a copy of the Death Certificate to notify them of the death. The financial companies holding the deceased’s financial assets will then respond to the executor to confirm whether a Grant of Probate is required for the executor to access the deceased’s financial assets. Inheritance Tax will need to be dealt with before probate is authorised.
Only executors are legally entitled to see a Will after a death in the UK.
If the estate is sufficiently large and complex enough to warrant an application for probate, once probate is granted the Will becomes a publicly accessible document that can be viewed by anyone.
If probate isn’t applied for, the Will will not become a public document.
You might like: Choosing an executor for your Will
Whilst you are not legally entitled to do so, you can ask the executors to see a copy of the Will while awaiting probate. If you’re a beneficiary named in the Will, most executors will allow you to see a copy of the Will or will typically voluntarily tell you you’re a beneficiary in a Will.
If anyone is not a beneficiary, the executor(s) may refuse to allow you to see the Will meaning you will only be able to see it if and when probate is issued.
Read more: Step-by-step guide to probate
Beneficiaries can request that executors allow them to see a copy of the Will prior to probate or wait until probate has been granted and then view probate records including a copy of the Will online or by applying to a Probate Registry.
However, if probate is not applied for because the estate was reasonably small and straightforward to deal with, then the Will will not be made available to publicly view online.
In these circumstances, as mentioned above, as a beneficiary you can request a copy of the Will from the executors and if they refuse, which is highly unusual, then you can instruct a legal professional to make a formal request on your behalf.
If the executors continue to ignore both your own and a legal professional’s request for a copy of the Will, you could make an application to the Court to compel the executors to formally apply for probate.
In most circumstances, the executors will contact a beneficiary to let them know:
However, if you hear nothing and you strongly suspect you’re a beneficiary in a Will, you can request sight of the Will from the executors.
Alternatively, if probate is being applied for, you can simply wait until it is granted and then view a copy of the Will online.
Contrary to what you may see in movies or on TV, there is no official ‘reading’ of the Will where everyone dramatically attends an official appointment in a stuffy solicitor’s office.
Instead, an executor will notify beneficiaries, typically by letter, that they have been named as a beneficiary in the Will.
As to when this happens can vary as there is no set criteria or legal time constraints on how quickly the reading of a Will should take place after death.
However, it is the executor’s job to let beneficiaries know they’re named in a Will and so this should preferably happen shortly after the death, especially if the Will contains important information about the funeral. However, if an executor drags their heels, viewing or reading of the Will could take place after the funeral or (if applicable) the granting of probate.
If you think that someone has died without leaving a Will and no one is making a claim to the estate, read our guide: How to claim or refer an unclaimed estate.
No, you do not legally have to register a Will in the UK but did you know that lost Wills is one of the most common reasons for contesting a Will?
Confusion and stress are not the sort of legacy you want to leave for your loved ones so making sure your Will is safely stored and easily accessible is one less thing for you to worry about.
It’s supersensible, cheap and convenient to store and safely register your Will with a professional Wills storage company such as Wills.Services so that your Will is kept safe and your executor can easily access it on your passing.
When you write a Will and then store it with Wills.Services, it means you can easily access your Will should you wish to amend it. Whereas if you use a Probate Registry to register a Will or the nationalwillregister.co.uk, neither of these services can easily change or update your Will like Wills.Services can, cheaply. So this means you’ll have the hassle of retrieving it from storage, the expense of a solicitor amending it and will then have to pay another fee to re-register a new Will.
Read more: Keeping your Will safe