If you are expecting the traditional “reading of a will” that you see on tv or in the movies, that is rarely how it works. In fact, there is no legal requirement that a will be read aloud to anyone. But, you may be wondering whether beneficiaries are entitled to a copy of the will. It is the personal representative (executor) who determines who will receive a copy of the will or be notified of its contents. Once the will is filed with the probate court, then it becomes public record and anyone can see it if they request a copy from the probate court’s office.
The Executor Determines Who Can Have a Copy of the Will
The first person to see the will is usually the executor since that is typically the person who has knowledge of where the will is being kept. The executor is the person responsible for probating the estate according to the provisions in the will. It is the executor’s responsibility to read the will and determine who the beneficiaries. There are several categories of individuals who are typically entitled to a copy of the will for various reasons. These include the beneficiaries, unnamed legal heirs, the accountant for the estate, the successor trustee if there is a revocable living trust, and tax officials.
The Beneficiaries Named in the Will are Entitled to a Copy
All beneficiaries named in the will are entitled to receive a copy in order to better understand the nature of their inheritance and how it will be distributed. When beneficiaries are minors, their legal guardians will receive a copy on their behalf.
Reasons to Provide an Unnamed Heir a Copy of the Will
In some situations, an executor or an estate planning attorney may suspect that an unnamed heir might contest the validity of the will. In that case, they may decide it is helpful to provide a copy of the will to those heirs in order to shorten the amount of time within which those heirs can formerly file their challenge to the will. The clock starts ticking once they have notice of the provisions of the will.
These heirs would include “heirs at law” which are those people who are closely related to the decedent and who would have normally inherited from the decedent had there been no will. Who these individuals are will depend on the relevant laws of each state. They always include a surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren.
The Accountant for the Estate Needs a Copy of the Will
If an accountant is appointed for the estate, then they must be provided a copy of the will in order to understand the extent of the provisions relating to paying off estate debts. The accountant will also handle the payment of estate and income taxes and other financial transactions needed to fulfill the provisions of the will.
The Successor Trustee of a Revocable Living Trust
If the decedent had a revocable living trust in place at the time of his or her death, then the will is likely meant to be a “pour over” will. If a revocable living trust was not entirely funded prior to the decedent’s death, then there will be some assets that were not placed in the trust. The pour over will provides instructions about what to do with the property that was not included and should be moved into the trust after death. That will needs to be probated and the successor trustee who takes over for the decedent will need a copy of the will. The successor trustee and the executor will need to work together to both settle the trust and the probate estate.
The IRS and the State Taxing Authority
Finally, it is necessary for a copy of the will to be filed with the Internal Revenue Service as well as the applicable state taxing authority whenever the estate is subject to federal and/or estate taxes. Basically, a copy of the will should be filed along with any estate tax returns. If, as an executor, you are confused about how probate works or who should be entitled to a copy of the will, let our probate and estate attorneys advise you.
If you have questions regarding estate planning, trust contests, or any other trust administration issues, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us in Los Angeles at (310) 337-7696, and in Orange County at (562) 346-3209.
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