You’ve probably seen on television or in movies a scene where surviving beneficiaries and other family members gather together for a formal “reading of the will” at an attorney’s office. Such scenes are very dramatic and often involve dialogue contesting the terms. In real life, formal reading of a will by a lawyer does not really take place; however, if the person died testate (meaning they had a will or a trust) then the beneficiaries and heirs are entitled to receive a copy of the testamentary document.
The first step in the process of administering an estate is to locate the will or trust. (It’s a good idea to inform your loved ones of where your important documents are kept so they can be easily located after you pass away to best ensure your wishes are carried out.)
Once located, the document itself provides some direction regarding the next steps. A valid will appoints an executor and a trust lists successor trustee(s) to administer the estate/trust. Whoever is listed in the document does not automatically have power to act, but rather must take steps to acquire authority to act on behalf of the estate. In fact, the person may decline to do so, which is why many list alternates in the event the first person named cannot or chooses not to act.
A person appointed under a will must petition the probate court for appointment as personal representative, and successor trustees named in a trust must take an oath in order to have legal authority to act on behalf of the estate. They will notify the beneficiaries and provide copies of the testamentary document. In the case of trusts, a notification is sent to the beneficiary to notify them that they are a beneficiary or heir and are entitled to receive a full copy of the trust upon their request if a full copy of the trust is not included with the notice letter. Trusts can be very long (100+ pages) so often the notice letter is sent without a full copy of the terms of the trust, however explaining to the beneficiary that they are entitled to a full copy should they request one. This also provides the beneficiary and heir with a defined period in which they can contest the trust.
So, back to the original question—when does the reading of the will take place? Well, probably not too long after the person passed away, but the real question has more to do with where a will it take place? If you are a beneficiary, most likely in the privacy of your own home after you have received a copy in the mail.