An overview of the process of administering a Will after someone has died; this includes probate issues and who is entitled to read a Will.
In England and Wales, people have the right to dispose of their estate however they wish – subject to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
Because a Will can have a significant impact on others, some people will prefer to keep the terms of their Will private, while others may be more open to discussing it.
Rights of a potential beneficiary
It’s a common misconception that if you think you’re most likely to be a beneficiary of the deceased person’s estate, you are allowed to read a copy of their Will.
However, this is not true. Only the executors named in the Will are entitled to read it, as otherwise issues between beneficiaries can occur.
What is an executor?
The role of executor – or administrator – of an estate is an important one. They are needed to carry out key duties, including notifying beneficiaries that the testator has passed away. The executors should also inform any beneficiaries that they have been appointed executor, as well as notifying the beneficiaries of what they are entitled to inherit.
Since the amount of work needed by an executor is not inconsiderable, it is not unusual to name more than one person as executor responsible for completing the probate work.
Prior to probate being granted, only the executors that have been appointed by the deceased are allowed to read the Will. If anyone asks to view the Will before this and they are not an executor, they should be refused and cannot threaten legal action.
How long does probate take?
There’s no time limit on applying for probate, but there are some aspects that must be administered in an appropriate time frame, such as paying Inheritance Tax. Once the probate application has been submitted it can take anywhere from a few weeks to some months to be processed by the Probate Registry.
What happens to a Will once probate has been granted?
Once the probate application is approved the Will enters into public domain, meaning that anyone, whether or not they are connected to the deceased, can make a request for a copy of the Will.
However, not all versions of a Will become public documents. Only the current Will that the Probate Registry has will be issued, and no previous iterations will be released. If a probate grant isn’t needed then the Will also remains private, although the executor will usually show it to the beneficiaries.
Whether probate is needed or not depends on what the testator owned when they died. Small estates, with no property and under a certain value (currently £5,000) may be able to be distributed without needing probate.
Help with probate and administration
Some view the work required by an executor as a relief from the grieving process. However, if this is not the case, a solicitor can act as executor. This allows the role to be undertaken impartially, without fear or favour, and may relieve any feelings of rancour amongst beneficiaries.