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'The Reading of the Will' is a myth created by Hollywood

View profile for Philip Nelson
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The Reading of the Will is a myth created by Hollywood

I was discussing with colleagues the various probate and will myths we have come across over the years.  The one that occurred to us and is most asked about is 'The Reading of the Will' when someone dies.

Films always portray the beneficiaries sitting solemnly listening to the will being read.  I do not think I have ever done that – wills are far too long to read and it far more likely that a will is sent out or discussed and explained more informally at a meeting.  Still the myth persists.

Wills are ultimately very private documents.  Whilst alive and providing you have capacity, wills can be changed at any time.  We are also lucky in England that there is no requirement to leave assets to family members or in certain shares; other countries have forced heirship rules which say that blood relations are entitled to shares in an estate.  There are ways for those not included to claim after death but nothing to force a person from writing a will in a certain way.  You do not have to split the estate equally between children.

The court has power to remove words from wills if they are offensive, so it is best not to tell people what you really think of them in a will (it has come before the courts on a few occasions!).

Whilst the will is private whilst you are alive, after death it can become public.  If probate is required, the will is made public and anyone can obtain a copy.  Newspapers sometimes pick up details and publish them, if the person is well known or particularly wealthy; charities use a company to go through wills to check if they are beneficiaries, to ensure they are paid out as required. 

Although, you do not need to share the contents of your will, it can be very beneficial if the family is able to have an open discussion about what is to happen and indeed to understand what there is.  Death and money are the two topics most difficult to discuss but a lot of issues can be avoided if expectations are managed and understood.  This is particularly important if you are thinking of leaving assets in a way that is not obvious to the family or if you have a particularly large asset, like a farm or business, that needs to be passed in a particular way. 

It is also important that family knows what the assets are and where to find them – so keeping paperwork organised and up to date can be a great help.

We are used to having discussions about wills and also often assist in communications between generations to ensure that wishes are met and that expectations are managed.

If you would like practical will-related advice grounded in reality rather than myth, then contact our Private Client team to find out how we can help.

Our articles are intended for general information purposes only and are not a substitute for professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. We are always very happy to discuss any plans, issues or concerns you may have and to clarify how we might be able to help. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.