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Monday, December 20, 2010

Does no reading of the will mean the executor is hiding something?

I am asked this question so often that I wonder where the idea of a reading of the will comes from. Many people tell me that they expect a formal gathering of the entire extended family with the lawyer at the head of the table, reading the will word for word to the assembled crowd. I have only seen a reading of the will in that form in the movies.

A reading of the will in the sense of a family gathering is not something that is usually done. You should not assume that because there is no reading of the will that the executor is hiding something.

If the executor wishes, he or she can arrange for a meeting of the beneficiaries of the will and the lawyer. Sometimes executors want this because they feel that the lawyer will be better able to answer the beneficiaries' questions about particular assets, probate or timelines, particularly if the executor is feeling overwhelmed. It's completely optional though. And you'll notice that I didn't say a "meeting of the family". I said a "meeting of the beneficiaries". They may not be the same people.

As hard as it may be to hear, if you are not a beneficiary of a will, you are not entitled to have a copy of the will or see the will or be told what is in it. Many a pointless estate fight has been fought over this point, simply because an individual can't or won't accept that he's not entitled to know what's in a will. This is especially true when the deceased person is a parent.

Having said that, I'm well aware that not all executors are as trustworthy or as honest as the deceased had hoped they'd be. If I felt that the executor of an estate in my family was lying to me or stealing assets, you'd better believe that I'd push the point about seeing the will. I'd be prepared to accept the estate lawyer's written assurance that I'm not named in the will. (And for those of you who are quite sure that a lawyer would lie in these circumstances, ask yourself why on earth a lawyer would be prepared to be disbarred over your mom or dad's estate).

If you're an executor wondering whether you should hold a reading of the will, consider it as one more tool in your executor's toolkit, and use it if you think it will help matters along.


  1. Hello, my Father died Oct 11, 2012 and left all assets to my Mother. My brother has been named executor of the will and there are no other siblings or family members involved. I have not seen the will and, according to my Mother, all assets are to be distributed equally between my brother and I upon her death and we are both named as beneficiaries in my Father's will.

    My concern is this. To this date, I have not seen or received a copy of the will, which my Father stated prior to his death, that I would. Each request to my brother and Mother have been shrugged off as "don't worry, you'll see it". My Mother is now, quite possibly, having a reoccurance of her cancer and I'm afraid that her health may deteriorate in the very near future and I cannot entirely trust my brother as he has not been a very reliable or honest person in the past. Would the lawyer who handled my Father's will be of any assistance in this matter? Could he provide me with a copy of the will? I live in Toronto, as does my brother and my Father resided and passed away in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

    Thank You

    1. I am in a very similar situation. Were you able to find any answers? I don't know where to start.

    2. Thanks to the July 11 person for bringing this one forward. It looks as though I missed it the first time around.

      The main concern in the original question seems to be getting a copy of the father's will. If you are named as a residuary beneficiary of a will, you are entitled to have a copy of it, and you should reasonably expect the executor to be the person who provides it to you. However, in the original question, the father left everything to the mother. Not to the daughter. There is no reason in the world for the daughter to be entitled to a copy of the father's will. Sure, the father said she could have a copy but there was no legal reason for this, and it is not enforceable.

      The lawyer who made the will won't send you or anyone else a copy. He or she is bound by confidentiality to his client, even if the client has now passed away. And, as I said, the person asking for the will has no legal right to get a copy.

      The father's will is no longer relevant in any event. His estate went to his wife. End of story. Now the only will that matters is the mother's will.


    3. How can my grandmother saw the will before her father's passing. She knows she was to be given property but her brother (the executor) refuses to read the will. How can she get a copy of the will if he will not read it? This has been an ongoing problem for the last 10 years but, it is now a pressing matter because her brother is trying to sell the property that she knows was left to her.

    4. Try checking the probate court to see whether the executor has applied for probate. He should have applied since he wants to sell real estate. If he has applied, the will is now public information and your grandmother can get a copy.

      Your other option is to hire a lawyer who will write to the executor and ask for a copy of the will. The executor may still refuse but he runs the risk that if your grandmother goes to court for an order that he must give her a copy, he could end up paying her legal costs for that.



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