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Thursday, June 25, 2020

If I'm mentioned in the will, do I have a right to see the will?

I've received a brief but important question from a reader that I think is worth exploring a bit. The question was simply "If you are mentioned or named anywhere in a Will does the executor have to show you the Will?" As usual, a simple question is going to require a somewhat complex answer.

If your name appears as a beneficiary in a will, you may be receiving a specific gift. By this I mean an item such as jewelry or a specific painting or a grandfather clock. A specific gift could also be a set amount of money, such as "$1,000 to each of my nieces and nephews". If this is the case, you are entitled to see the part of the will that describes your gift. You are not entitled to read the entire will just because you are receiving a specific gift. Sometimes executors will show you the whole will anyway, but you do not have the legal right to force them to show you the will based on your gift.

This is because your gift has nothing to do with the rest of the will. You will receive the painting or the $1,000 regardless of who else is getting something. The only way this would change is if the estate is broke and needs to sell your gift to help pay debts.

Your name could also be in a will if you are a residuary beneficiary. This means a beneficiary who is getting a share of the whole estate. These are the gifts that are described as "divide my estate equally among my children" or other cases in which the entire estate is being disposed of. If this is the case for you, then yes, you are certainly entitled to see the whole will. This is because if you are supposed to receive a share of "everything" then you need to be able to see what "everything" entails.

Another possibility for your name being in a will is a statement by the testator about why he or she is not leaving you something. This could happen if you are an adult child estranged from your parents or someone who has had no contact with the testator for many years. The will could simply say that you are not receiving a share of the estate (and might give a reason as well), In that case, you would be entitled to see the part of the will that named you.

If you are named in the will as the legal guardian for minor children, then you would be entitled to see the will. Similarly, if you were named as the trustee of a trust in the will, you would need to see the entire will to carry out your duties.

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