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Can Anyone View A Will?

Can Anyone View A Will

Contrary to scenes you might have seen enacted on television or in the movies, there’s really no such thing as a “reading of a will.” There’s no legal requirement that a last will and testament must be read aloud to anyone. The executor or personal representative of the estate determines who is entitled to receive a copy and who should be sent a copy even if state law doesn’t require it.

Locating the Will

It doesn’t always happen that family members can immediately locate a decedent’s last will and testament, yet everything begins with this document. Logical places to look include safe deposit boxes and anywhere the decedent was fond of filing away personal papers. The decedent’s lawyer might have kept a copy if he drafted the document. If you don’t know who that lawyer is, consider placing a notice in the local newspaper. You can also check with the probate court. Some states allow individuals to file their own wills before their deaths for safekeeping. Many states require that the individual in possession of the will must file it with the probate court when it’s located. Ideally, the document will name the individual the decedent wanted to act as executor of her estate. Once filed, the will is a matter of public record. When it’s a public record anyone can see it. But if it’s not a public record, you need to be named in the will to see it.

Interested parties can also usually learn the name of the executor by getting a copy of the death certificate from the county registrar. They can then request a copy of the will if they haven’t yet received one or if it’s not yet available for viewing in the court system. This leaves a somewhat long list of who should receive a copy.

The Executor Named in the Will

Obviously, the executor must have a copy of the will. He’s responsible for settling the deceased’s estate according to its terms. He must review it to understand who the beneficiaries are and to learn of any special restrictions or instructions that might exist about their shares of the estate. Many wills also determine what powers should be granted to the executor, sometimes called a personal representative, when he’s settling the estate. They might detail what type of compensation he’s entitled to receive for carrying out all the fiduciary responsibilities involved in the probate process.

The Beneficiaries Named in the Will

All beneficiaries named in a will are entitled to receive a copy of it so they can understand what they’ll be receiving from the estate and when they’ll be receiving it. If any beneficiary is a minor, his natural or legal guardian should be given a copy of the will on his behalf. If the executor or the estate attorney anticipates that anyone will file a will contest to challenge the validity of the will, he might send copies to any heirs at law of the deceased who aren’t named in the will. He might also want to provide copies to any beneficiaries named in a previous will if there is one. Heirs at law are individuals who are so closely related to the decedent that they would have inherited from her if she had not left a will.

All states have prescribed lists detailing who these people are. They commonly begin with a surviving spouse, if any, then children, grandchildren, and outward to more distant relatives in an ever-widening arc. More distant relatives typically do not inherit unless all those who precede them in line are also deceased. Providing copies of the will to all these people can help to limit the amount of time that any disinherited beneficiaries or heirs have to challenge the will. In many states, it starts the clock ticking toward the deadline by which they must do so.
Remember that a will becomes a public record for anyone to see and read when it’s filed for probate with the state court. The beneficiaries of the will can request that the probate judge seal the court records to prevent the general public from viewing it under certain circumstances. But probate judges typically only grant this request only in rare situations, such as when the deceased is a celebrity or otherwise notorious. Wills are important documents and there are situations in which you will need to get a copy of last will and testament. How to obtain a copy of a last will and testament depends on the legal status of the will, as well as its location.

If you are wondering where I can get a copy of a will of a deceased person, there is a procedure to follow. Once the testator has died, if that will has been filed with the probate court of the county the deceased resided in, the court will open the will and it becomes public record. The best way to view the will is to get the probate court file number. The executor can give you this information. You may be also able to access the file number by phone, online, or in person at the courthouse by providing the deceased’s name and date of death. Some courts don’t even need the date of death and have an online docket you can search by name. Go to the courthouse with the file number and ask a court clerk to see the file. Getting a copy of a will is possible by paying a copying fee. Some courts will also provide you with a copy by fax or mail of a will on file. A certified copy of will is a document that has been stamped and certified by the court to be an exact copy of the official document. It may be necessary to search through the court archives for a copy of will from many years ago. The clerk will tell you how to do this. The will might be on microfilm or in digital format for viewing. You can obtain copies from the clerk. The rule of thumb is only the original copy of a will is valid. The original is what must be filed with the court.

Most people make copies of their will though. A copy of a will may be admissible in court if the original has been destroyed by a fire or flood or if the original has been unintentionally lost by the testator. If the original will was purposely destroyed or thrown out by the testator because he or she wanted to revoke that will, the copy is not valid. A certified copy is useful for filing other legal papers (such as to transfer title of assets). Locating a will can take some digging, but with diligence and careful research you should be able to obtain a copy of the will you are looking for. While a testator remains alive, her will is a private document. She shows it to whom she wishes, and others have no right to view it. It is revocable at whim. At the testator’s death, however, the will executor files the document with the probate court. Once a will is filed with the court, it is a public document unless the court orders otherwise.

Types of Records

A probate file contains not only the last will and testament of the deceased, but all documents filed in the probate such as executor reports, lists of bills paid and assets distributed. Probate files also include will objections and will contest proceedings. Members of the public can access both current and closed probate files. When an individual passes away and leaves behind a will, there are various regulations and procedures that must be followed such as filing the will in probate court and distributing the estate’s assets to beneficiaries by the executor of the estate. During the process of distributing assets according to the will, interested parties may ask to view copies of the will.

Whether or not a party requesting an opportunity to view and receive a copy depends on whom they are, their role in creating or managing the will, and their relationship with the deceased. Only the Executors appointed in a Will are entitled to read the Will before Probate is granted. If someone who is not an Executor asks to see the Will, the person or organization storing the Will (such as the deceased’s bank or Solicitor) cannot allow them to see it or have a copy, unless the Executor/s agree. Once the Grant of Probate is issued, the Will becomes a public document and anyone can obtain a copy by applying to the Probate Registry and paying the appropriate fee. It is important to note that only Wills provided to the Probate Registry become public. Any Will that the deceased had written previously will remain private. Additionally, if a Grant of Probate is not required, the Will remains private. The Executor can choose to share the Will with the Beneficiaries named in the Will, but it would not usually be seen by anyone who is not named in the Will. Whether or not Probate is required depends on the value and complexity of the Estate. The Executors of a Will may not be able to start dealing with assets which are held by organizations (like banks, building societies, share registrars etc.) until a Grant of Probate has been obtained If the Executor ignores all requests, the next step would be for Court proceedings to be issued. This would usually include a claim for the Court costs to be met by the Executor, particularly if the Court determines that the Executor is acting obstructively. Please note, issuing Court proceedings should be considered as the final option for Beneficiaries seeking to have a sight of the Will. If a Beneficiary is still not able to read the Will, a caveat could be placed on the Estate to prevent the issue of the Grant of Probate. This would mean the Executor/s will not be able to distribute any of the Estate funds. This is not a scenario many Executors or Beneficiaries would want to happen, so disclosure of the Will would normally take place if this option is suggested.

How to Find a Will

• Search the house: It sounds obvious, but the first place to look is where the deceased person lived, as that is where most Wills are kept. Popular places include a safe or locked drawer in the study, attic or the master bedroom. Although it is important for an Executor to locate the Will, it is still strongly advisable to seek agreement from the deceased person’s family before searching the house, to avoid any allegations of trespass.

• Ask your local District Probate Registry: Once a Grant of Probate has been issued, the Will becomes a public document. You can search online for a Probate record. This can take up to 10 working days.

Ask their solicitor: If the deceased used a solicitor or other professional to write their Will, it is possible that they would still be storing the Will. So, if you are an Executor, you will be able to obtain the Will from them. If the solicitor is no longer in business, contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It should have a record of who took over the solicitors practice and, ultimately, where the Will is now.

• Ask the bank: If you are the Executor of the Estate, you could ask the deceased’s bank for a copy of the Will. The bank will usually ask for the death certificate and proof of your identification before giving this to you. First, it is not always necessary for an Executor to administer an Estate. For example:

• The Estate is made up of just cash

• The property is joint property

• If the deceased person’s spouse or children have already been nominated to receive assets such as a pension payment or life policy.
Second, if you are unable to find a Will, it is possible that that the deceased did not make one; in which case, the Estate would usually be administered by the next of kin under the Rules of Intestacy. Administering someone’s Estate can be a time-consuming and complex process, more so as research indicates that about 60% of Utah adults admit to not having a Will. If you are looking for the Will of a loved one and not having much success, it is always best to seek the advice of an experienced professional who can give you the right help and support you need.

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When you need legal help with a will, probate, estate plan, or administration of an estate or trust, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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Michael Anderson

About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.