Dealing with wills can seem like a complex and confusing process. It doesn’t help when there are so many misconceptions around them that can cloud the judgement of those dealing with a difficult time. However, wills are important documents, especially when it comes to real estate planning and guidance on the distribution of assets after an individual’s passing.
In this guide, we aim to provide a thorough understanding of wills. We will clear up some of the common misconceptions while providing guidance on what is expected from everyone involved. Alternatively, if you’re writing a will, check out our blog on how much it could cost.
Let’s get started.
Do I need a solicitor to read the will?
When someone passes away, they leave behind their financial belonging, forming what is legally termed an ‘estate.’ This broad term includes money, assets, property, possessions, debts, and liabilities. The responsibility of bringing together and valuing these many different components falls upon the deceased’s personal representatives.
Now, the vast majority of the population wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to something like wills. Many assume the responsibility falls to a professional by law; however, this isn’t the case. Instead, there are two types of personal representatives who take on the responsibility of reading the will.
They are executors and administrators. Executors are the more familiar term that many will have heard of; they are appointed under the deceased’s will, while administrators step in when there is no valid will or appointed executors.
If you find yourself selected as a personal representative, the role involves significant trust and responsibility. Dealing with estate administration can be a complex task, and those taking on this responsibility become personally liable for ensuring the correct administration of the estate.
So, where do solicitors come into play?
In strict terms, it is not necessary to engage a solicitor for these duties. The decision rests with the personal representative. However, there are reasons why solicitors offer estate administration services. Take a look below:
Why would you need a solicitor?
A solicitor will have a deep understanding of wills, no matter what the unique situations may be. This results in having access to invaluable resources to get through a complicated situation. Additionally, dealing with wills can take a lot of time. Having the help and expertise of someone more knowledgeable can help make it a more efficient process. Additionally, it’s not just the distribution of assets which are required; paying debts and taxes is also a major part. Therefore, a solicitor can help avoid some of the common mistakes others make during the process.
How long after someone dies is the will read?
The will should be read as soon as possible after the passing of an individual. In the immediate aftermath of a person’s death, grieving loved ones might naturally wonder when the contents of the will become known. Many individuals choose to include what will happen to their deceased body with instructions within their will. As a result, it is important that this is read and instructions are appropriately carried out. However, the timeline of the entire will being read through to implementation is a different matter. This is because there are several steps which are required, and each one can delay the next, leading to a longer process.
The initiation of probate, the legal process validating a will, has a huge impact on the overall timeline. This is because, before probate, only the executor can read the will. Any other parties, including beneficiaries, must wait for probate to commence before they can also read the will. Probate initiation requires submitting an application and paying a fee of £150 if using a solicitor or £273 if submitting without one.
Complex estates involving numerous assets, debts, or legal intricacies may require more time for evaluation. Executors and administrators must carefully assess and organise the estate, ensuring an accurate representation of assets and liabilities. Dealing with this can add time before instructions specified in the will can be carried out.
If an executor is named in the will, their responsibilities include managing the deceased’s affairs, paying debts, and distributing assets. This process, known as estate administration, can be a time-consuming process. If the executor has many other responsibilities, this can affect the overall timeline.
Family dynamics and potential disputes can also impact the timing of the will reading. If there are disagreements or challenges to the will, the process may be prolonged as these issues are resolved.
Who attends a will reading?
Contrary to popular belief, the occasion of a will reading is not a public spectacle. It can simply be the executor alone or take place as a semi-private event involving individuals with specific legal roles and interests in the deceased’s estate.
The key people typically include:
The primary figure in the process, the executor, is often named in the will and is responsible for carrying out the deceased’s wishes. They play a central role when it comes to the distribution of assets and settling debts.
Those named in the will to inherit assets or receive specific bequests are known as beneficiaries. They have a direct interest in the contents of the will and are entitled to be present during the reading. However, they are not legally entitled to be there. If a beneficiary wishes to read the will, they will usually have to wait until the grant of probate is issued. At this point, the will become a public document available to those interested. An application to the Probate Registry, along with a fee, is required.
- Legal Representatives
Solicitors or legal representatives may also attend to provide legal guidance and ensure the proper execution of the will. This is more common when dealing with more complex estates or situations involving disputes.
To prevent any disputes or misunderstandings, witnesses who attest to the validity of the will can be invited to answer any questions or confirm the circumstances surrounding the will’s creation.
- Close Family or Friends
While not strictly necessary for the legal proceedings, close family members or friends may be invited or choose to attend for emotional support.
However, the will reading itself is not a mandatory legal requirement. In many cases, the executor may communicate the contents of the will to others outside of a formal reading.
Who is entitled to read a will after death?
The ability to read a will straight after death will fall to the executor. However, once probate has been issued, others can also read the will. Additionally, it is at the executor’s discretion to decide who else can access the will.
It’s important to get this right and to understand who has the legal right to access a will, at which point it is important to get through the legal intricacies involved in the process.
Here are some of the main parties who would be interested in reading the will:
The executor, appointed by the deceased in the will, is the sole person obligated to read the document. They have the discretionary power to determine whether others, beyond themselves, should have access to the will.
While it may be the cause of disagreements and possibly disputes, the executor is within their legal rights to refuse access to a will, even if the person asking was a close family member.
Additionally, any beneficiary who is a recipient of some of the estate can be refused access to see the will. Instead, they can simply be told of the contents related to them rather than be given access to the entire will.
However, once the will becomes a public document, anyone, including any other non-beneficiaries, can see the entire will.
The law in England does not state that beneficiaries should also receive a copy of the deceased’s will or be informed of its contents. While beneficiaries have the right to know their entitlement to the estate, the executor is not obliged to provide a copy of the will or disclose details of other beneficiaries and their shares. However, they can access the will at a later stage.
Can a beneficiary request a copy of the will?
Beneficiaries can ask the executor or administrator for a copy of the will, but legally, they do not have to be given access. If refused access, beneficiaries have to wait for the grant of probate to be issued, where they can then access the will for a small fee.
Access Before Probate
Before probate is granted, beneficiaries do not have a legal right to see the will. The executor may choose to share details at their discretion.
Once probate is granted, the original will becomes a public record. Interested parties, for a fee of £1.50, can find a probate record, also known as a ‘grant of representation’. This can be accessed along with the will through the government website’s “Find a Will” feature.
Limitations on Public Records
While probate records are publicly accessible, they do not detail the estate’s accounts or include a letter of wishes. Residual beneficiaries, in addition to the executor, are the only individuals entitled to see the estate accounts.
Where many go wrong is failing to recognise that an executor, while having a duty of care to the estate and its beneficiaries, is not obligated to show the beneficiaries the will or the estate’s accounts. The discretion of the executor plays a significant role in determining the level of transparency in sharing these details.
What to do if requests are ignored
In the event that requests to access the will or obtain information about the estate are met with silence or resistance, there are steps individuals can take to address the situation.
Communication with the Executor
If a beneficiary or interested party feels their requests are being ignored, the first step is open communication with the executor. A respectful inquiry about the status of the requests may provide clarity on the reasons for the delay or non-disclosure.
If communication fails to offer an amicable solution, seeking legal advice is another solution. A solicitor experienced in probate matters can help individuals understand their rights and potential courses of action.
Mediation services can offer a neutral ground for parties involved in a dispute. An impartial mediator may facilitate communication and help find a resolution without resorting to legal proceedings.
In more contentious situations, individuals may consider filing a court application. This legal avenue allows a judge to review the circumstances and determine whether the executor is withholding information without a valid reason.
Executor’s Legal Obligations
Executors have a legal duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. If an executor consistently neglects their responsibilities, legal intervention may be necessary to enforce compliance.
Getting through the process of will readings and estate distribution can be a lengthy and stressful journey. While the different stages of estate administration may pose challenges, the ultimate goal is to honour the wishes of the deceased and ensure a fair distribution of assets. In the aftermath of a loved one’s passing, it’s completely understandable that many will undergo a substantial emotional toll. This makes the need for clarity and efficiency throughout the process a must.
Additionally, following the lengthy process of probate, many may be in a position of having to deal with selling their inherited property. This can be another lengthy, time-consuming process. For those seeking a quicker resolution, you’re in the right place. With Sold.co.uk, we can get properties sold quickly as we can facilitate sales of all types, including acting as cash house buyers. Cash house buyers provide a swift and cost-effective avenue for selling properties, removing the burdens that often come with the handling of wills and probate. Get in touch through our enquiry form to get started now.