Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Is it time to revive the old-fashioned practice of the Reading of the Will?
Posted by Lynne Butler
A Reading of the Will is basically a meeting between the lawyer for an estate, the executor, the family members of the deceased, and anyone else who is named as a beneficiary under a will. The purpose of the meeting is to advise the beneficiaries and the surviving family members of who is inheriting what, and other terms of the will. This was an effective way of communicating information in an age when not everyone could read, and geographical distance was not easily covered. Today, those reasons are not particularly relevant, but perhaps new reasons have replaced them.
I believe it may be time to start holding Readings of the Will again. I say this in part because there is frequently so much distrust and animosity between executors and beneficiaries. One of the main sources of friction is the lack of information being directed to the beneficiaries. Lack of information always, without fail, leads to speculation and suspicion, whether warranted or not. This can often be prevented.
It seems to me that holding a Reading of the Will would provide useful information to all parties. Beneficiaries would find out who is going to inherit, and would have the chance to ask questions about things such as certain language in the will, or the terms of a trust that affects them. The executor would also find the meeting valuable, as he or she would set an open, direct tone for the estate right from the start. Not to mention that the executor would find out pretty quickly who -if anyone - is disappointed or outraged by the will and likely to start a challenge.
It also gives the lawyer the opportunity to direct all parties as to what is expected of them during the estate, and how long it is likely to take to wind it all up. This alone could forestall dozens of calls and emails to the executor.
These days, it seems that beneficiaries are cynical about executors, belligerent and annoying. Executors are secretive, defensive, and sometimes hostile. It saddens me, but I've talked to an awful lot of executors and beneficiaries in my time, and it's usually not a happy or trusting relationship. There is just no need for an estate to be conducted that way. People involved in an estate need to communicate better, right from the start. If they can't do that easily on their own, then they are smart to use tools such as a Reading of the Will to their advantage.
In the movies, a Reading of the Will is always dramatic, with some black-gowned person or other cursing and making threats. In real life, the Readings that I've directed have been quiet gatherings with some tears, but also with many honest moments of collective will to wrap things up without disputes or wrangling. Being gathered together like that reminds people that they are still a family. When my new practice opens next month, I'm going to offer my services for Readings, and take careful note of how my clients benefit from them. I hope that clients will opt to hold them, as a Reading of the Will is more likely to bring family members together than to set them against each other, and isn't that what they all need?
In the meantime, I've added a new poll to the top, right-hand corner of this blog that asks how you'd feel about a Reading of the Will, and I'd love it if you'd take the time to vote. If any readers of this blog would like to let us know about their experience with a Reading of the Will, I'd be pleased to hear your comments.