Will There Be a “Reading” of My Will?
In the recently released film Knives Out, the family of a recently deceased wealthy man gathers in his library to hear his probate attorney read the will. This “reading of the will” trope has been popular in film and literature for decades. But is it something that actually happens in real life?
The short answer is no. At one time, will readings were a common practice, particularly in the days when many people were not literate and needed to have a legal document read to them. But today, will readings are an uncommon practice, and it is not legally required in Florida or any other state.
Of course, there is also no legal prohibition against a reading of the will. If you think such a practice might be beneficial or useful to your own family members when the time comes, you are free to leave instructions requesting a public will reading. But keep in mind, the absence of such a reading has no legal effect on the validity of the will or the administration of your estate.
Who Must Be Notified That a Will Exists?
So if there is no requirement for a reading of the will, how will your family members or other beneficiaries know about its contents? Let’s put first things first. Once a will is filed with the probate court, it is a matter of public record. Anyone can legally request to see and make a copy of the will, even if they are a complete stranger.
More to the point, however, if a person is a named beneficiary of the will, the executor of the estate has a legal obligation to inform them of the will’s existence and its contents. This is normally done by sending a document known as a “notice of administration.” This notice also provides basic information about the probate proceeding itself, including notice of the recipient’s rights to file an objection to the validity of the will within a 3-month period.
What About Trusts?
If the deceased individual placed all or most of their assets into a trust before their death, then that is a different matter entirely. Trusts are normally private documents. They are not filed in court unless there is litigation involving the trust. And as with wills, there is no legal requirement for any sort of public reading. Aside from the actual beneficiaries named in the trust, the trustee has no legal obligation to publicly read the trust documents or even let anyone know that the trust exists.
So if maintaining privacy is a key goal for your estate plan, it may be in your best interests to set up a trust. You will still need a will to “pour over” any remaining assets into your trust at death. But the ultimate disposition of your property can be kept largely private.