What happens during a will reading?

The type of will readings seen in TV and film don’t actually happen, but anyone named as a beneficiary in a deceased person’s will can generally get a copy of the will

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Derek SilvaSenior Editor & Personal Finance ExpertDerek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

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A “reading of the will” event put on by an estate attorney, as shown in television and movies, is not a legal requirement and rarely happens in real life. When someone dies with a valid will, the beneficiaries named in the will are generally entitled to receive a copy of the document. The beneficiaries can then read through the will on their own or gather together and read it jointly if they so choose, but there is no requirement for an official will reading during the probate process.

Similarly, the video wills sometimes shown in the media are rarely (if ever) valid types of wills. It’s possible that the decedent left a video that they hoped for their beneficiaries to see, and it’s even possible the decedent left a video of themselves reading their will, but the video itself is not a valid will and playing the video to a group isn’t legally necessary.

Key takeaways

  • The formal reading of a will shown in television and film does not actually happen

  • You can leave a video for all your beneficiaries to see after you die, but it isn’t a valid will and law doesn’t require everyone to watch it together

How to know if you’re in a will

Many people learn that they’re in a will either directly from the testator (will writer) before their death or from the estate’s executor after the testator dies. The executor is in charge of estate administration for the deceased’s estate — paying taxes and debts as well as overseeing the distribution of any inheritance to the appropriate heirs. If you’re concerned you won’t be notified about your beneficiary status for someone’s will, read our guide on how to know if you’re in someone’s will.

A strong estate plan starts with life insurance

Who receives a copy of a will?

State law may dictate who must receive a copy of someone’s will after they die. Usually anyone named as a will beneficiary is notified of the person’s death and can receive a copy of the will. It’s possible that beneficiaries can see only some parts of the will, like those that pertain specifically to them.

Even if not required by law, other people named in the will, like a guardian for the decedent’s minor children, commonly receive a copy. There may also be state laws pertaining to specific types of will, like if the decedent had a living trust paired with a pour-over will.

Does a will become public?

If you want to see a copy of someone’s will but you aren’t entitled to a copy of it immediately after their death, you may be able to wait until the will becomes part of the public record. (It’s possible that a probate court judge allows a will to be sealed and kept from the public record, but it’s unlikely.)

Learn how to find a will.

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