Wills, Probate and Tax specialist, Sarah Loveless, explains who is entitled to see a Will after death, and when they are entitled to see it. Our Probate Team are available to help you on 01225 755656. Alternatively, you can email them, or complete the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
In England and Wales, who is entitled to see a Will after death depends entirely on whether probate has been granted. Before the grant is issued, the only people entitled to see a Will are the named executors. However, that situation changes after probate because the Will then becomes a public document. From that point on, anyone can apply to the Probate Registry for a copy, whether or not they have a connection to the deceased or the estate.
Before probate is granted, if anyone other than the named executors asks to see the Will, the organisation or person storing it (often a solicitor or a bank) should refuse unless they have the express consent of all named executors.
How long does probate take?
There is no time limit on making the probate application itself, but there are aspects of the process where time is of the essence. A good example is the payment of Inheritance Tax (IHT), which is payable before a grant of probate can be issued and in any event by the end of the sixth month following the person’s death. After that time, HMRC will start charging interest.
Once the application for probate has been made, it can take anything from a few weeks to several months to be processed by the Probate Registry. Typically, taxable estates take longer.
Not all Wills become public documents
It’s important to note that only the current Will at the date of death is provided to the Probate Registry and will become public. Any earlier revoked Wills and codicils remain private.
Also, probate is not always required. In that case, although the Will remains private, the executor(s) are generally expected to show the Will to the beneficiaries on request. But if you are not a beneficiary, the chances are you will not have an opportunity to see it.
What if the executor(s) refuses to show the Will to a beneficiary?
Usually, beneficiaries named in a Will would expect the executor(s) to notify them of:
- the death;
- the appointment of the executor(s);
- what the beneficiary is entitled to inherit.
However, there is no specific legal requirement entitling a beneficiary to see the Will. If they request a copy from the executor(s), but they refuse to provide one, the beneficiary may consider instructing a solicitor to request a copy formally. If that more formal approach is unsuccessful, there is a process where a beneficiary can apply to the court to compel the executor(s) to apply for a grant of probate, after which the Will becomes public. However, such applications are very rare, particularly as they have significant costs implications.