The reading of a will is a familiar scene in movies and mystery novels. Although it makes a handy and rather dramatic plot device, the reading of a last will and testament is a relic of the past and no longer a feature of estate law.
At one time, last wills and testaments were sometimes read aloud to members of the immediate family and other beneficiaries. This was necessary in an era when legal documents were more difficult to copy, mail, and distribute, and when illiteracy was more widespread, prompting the public reading of such documents to people concerned in a legal action.
In the 21st century, lawyers do not normally read wills and no state requires either a public or private reading of a will to beneficiaries of an estate. Beneficiaries may request a conference at which the will can be discussed and points of the will read aloud, but estate attorneys won't generally arrange time for a complete reading, as they feel it is a waste of their time and resources.
Distribution of the Will
The attorney charged with handling the state, who is legally designated as the personal representative of the deceased, must oversee the delivery of copies of the will to the beneficiaries and, if necessary, the recording of the document with a court clerk. The attorney may also distribute copies to beneficiaries of previous wills who may have been deleted from the current will to expedite any contest of the will by those who have been disinherited.
When a will is submitted to probate court, the court rules on its provisions and authorizes the personal representative of the estate to oversee the distribution of assets. The will becomes a public document and the clerk of court must make it available to anyone who wishes to read it. Beneficiaries may request that the court seal the record, but must provide good cause for doing so and submit to the judge’s decision.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.