Real Time Web Analytics

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is it time to revive the old-fashioned practice of the Reading of the Will?

Most people have only seen a Reading of the Will in movies. That's because they are rarely held these days. I wonder if it's time to revive the practice?

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.


  1. From your description it appears that the beneficiaries are wholly dependent on the executor for information on the contents of the will.

    - Do the beneficiaries not have the right to receive a copy of the will from the executor?
    - Do family members who are not beneficiaries have the right to receive a copy of the will from the executor?
    - Is not a probated will accessible (for a fee) to any interested party?

    1. Yes, the executor is the one who is responsible for providing the beneficiaries with all of the information on the estate. Outside parties such as Canada Revenue Agency, banks, insurance companies, pension administrators, etc won't share information with people who are not the executor. Beneficiaries are often disappointed or angry when they ask the estate lawyer for items and are told that it's up to the executor, not the lawyer, but that's how it works.

      Residuary beneficiaries have a right to see the will. Non-residuary beneficiaries do not. That's a general rule, of course. A problem arises when an individual is told that they aren't a beneficiary and therefore not entitled to a copy of the will, and they don't believe the executor. This is also a problem when family members who are not beneficiaries, as you say, want a copy but are not entitled to one.

      Yes, a probated will can be obtained for a fee from the courts. Keep in mind, though, that not all wills are probated. Or they may not be submitted for probate until many months after death.


  2. I totally agree with you. In our modern day "legal" writing of wills, estate trustees rarely understand what the Will says. I believe lawyers should be engaged to perform the reading of the Will so that each clause is interpreted to the beneficiaries and estate trustees in plain English.

    1. Kav, you make an excellent point. Sometimes executors really don't know what they're doing, and in fact they know so little that they don't even realize how wrong they really are. This doesn't apply to all executors, by any means, but I agree that holding a Reading of the Will would be a great start for an executor who needs a bit of help from the lawyer.


  3. I totally agree with you. The problem might not be just with the Executors and Beneficiaries but also with Lawyer (s). Lynne as you have probably notice d with my comments re some of your articles I am having a rather difficult time. One thing for your readers to note is that in a small town Lawyers look out for each other, the Old Boys Network. They are used to running the show and do not like to be challenged. Few people ever challenge Lawyers. I am one of the rare ones.
    As always, thanks for what you do.

    1. Yes, I have noticed that you are dealing with an issue. I agree that most people don't challenge lawyers, just as they don't usually challenge doctors or accountants. They assume that the professional-for-hire knows their business. But every industry has some bad apples, including the legal industry.

      I have always made it a practice to to encourage any client who balks at my advice to get a second opinion. Most are surprised that that is even an option. This works for the client, of course, but also for me because I'd much prefer to have clients who think I know what I'm doing!

      You know, even in large cities, lawyers tend to know each other, and spend time together socially and professionally. So, yes, they may want to think well of each other. But the other side of that equation is that many members of the public really don't understand the role of the lawyer and see negative things where they don't exist. Trying to talk down an upset client may look like cronyism to that client.

      Anyway, I can only control what I do, not what other lawyers do. I work really hard at having good relationships with my clients. And my blog readers :)

      I appreciate that you read this blog, and that you comment. I hope that I can help repair your opinion of lawyers.



You might also like

Related Posts with Thumbnails