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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Who is entitled to see your Will?

During your lifetime, you are entitled to show your Will to anyone you like, but you are also entitled to keep it private. You should either give the executor named in your Will a copy of the Will, or at least let him or her know where the original Will is kept. Other than your executor, there may not be anyone who needs to know in advance what is in your Will.

After you have passed away, the executor will use the original Will to apply for probate, if necessary, and if so, the original Will is filed at the court. When a person passes away, it's quite common for family members or close friends to ask whether they are named in the Will. I've often been approached by individuals who are angry or insulted that the executor won't let them see the Will to find out whether they are beneficiaries. I'm always surprised that people should be so angry that they are not allowed to see private papers, even though the executor has told them they are not beneficiaries.

Unfortunately for those who are curious, the executor is entitled, in fact is expected, to maintain the privacy of the deceased person. The Will is a private document and should not be shown to everyone who expresses an interest in its contents, regardless of whether that person wonders if he or she is a beneficiary. In Alberta, everyone who is a beneficiary of an estate will, at the time probate is applied for, receive a registered letter advising them of the gift left to them under the Will. Those who are going to inherit a share of the residue of the estate will also get a photocopy of the Will and a photocopy of everything that was filed at the court. Beneficiaries who are going to inherit a specific item or a specific sum of money will get the notice but will not get a copy of the whole Will.

Occasionally, an individual will have a reasonable expectation of being a beneficiary but has not received a notice. For example, the person might have been told by the person who is now deceased that he or she would be a beneficiary. Or, the person might have a copy of an earlier Will of the deceased, in which the person was named as a beneficiary. When I've been hired in that situation, I have written a letter on behalf of the person, asking the executor whether my client was a beneficiary and explaining that we believed there was good reason for asking. Even then, we might not be able to see the actual Will, though we will generally receive an answer because the executor doesn't want an uneccessary lawsuit.

The fact that you are related to the deceased person is not in itself a reason to allow you to see the deceased's Will.


  1. Hi Lynne,
    I am the executor of a late testatrix (T) in Ontario. I am trying to get to the bottom of whether I am required to produce the primary will of the T to the T's daughter, who has no interest in it and is not a beneficiary, even though the daughter IS a beneficiary of the estate generally (under the secondary will) and even though she is the daughter of the deceased.
    I would really appreciate any direction! Thanks.

  2. Hi. I am executor of a Will in Ontario and have given copies to all beneficiaries named in it. there is a first tier of beneficiaries who have life interest in the estate. Once the last of them dies, then there is a second tier of beneficiaries. They have asked for a bookkeeping of all financials of the current estate. Are the second tier beneficiaries entitle to a copy of the financial records of the estate BEFORE the first tier are deceased? there may not be any money left for that second tier at the death of the first tier beneficiaries.


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