Here’s what happens to a will after a person dies

Many movies and television shows include a scene where a family gathers around a big table after a relative has died to listen to the reading of the will. While this makes for great drama, things don’t usually happen this way in the real world. In fact, there is no requirement that a will be read out loud to anyone.

So what does happen with the will?

Once the will is located, it should be given to the estate’s attorney. Instead of reading the will aloud, the estate’s attorney sends copies to anyone who may have an interest in it. This includes:

  • The executor or personal representative, who is in charge of applying for probate, managing the decedent’s property, and making sure the instructions in the will are carried out.
  • Anyone who is named as a beneficiary. If any minor children or incapacitated individuals are named, then their guardians should receive a copy of the will.
  • In some states, anyone who would have inherited if there was no will is entitled to a copy of the will.
  • Even if it isn’t required by law, if there is the possibility of a legal challenge to the will, the attorney may want to send a copy to any legal heirs, close family relatives, or previous beneficiaries who aren’t included in the will, so that they have notice. This will limit the time frame for them to file a will contest.
  • The estate’s accountant may get a copy, and if the estate is taxable, then the IRS may get a copy as well.
  • If the will funds a revocable trust, then the successor trustee of the trust is entitled to a copy.

Note that once a will is probated, it is available to the public and anyone can read it.

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