Scene: The air is thick with tension and anticipation.  The entire family and beneficiaries are gathered around the conference room table with the lawyer who solemnly takes the will out of the envelope and begins reading it aloud.  As the will is read, various family members gasp with shock, exclaim in surprise, or give angry glares at one another.

I’m sure you’ve seen similar scenes on the television or in the movies.  But do formal readings of the will actually happen in real life?  No, they do not. 

So why do we see them in the movies or read about them in books so often?  Because a formal reading of the will is a great plot devise to create drama and conflict and set the stage for the rest of the story. Authors and playwrights have been using them for years.

Granted, some families might opt to arrange something akin to a reading of the will to reduce confusion among beneficiaries, but especially in today’s world where families are more likely to be spread out geographically, this is pretty rare.

So how do people find out what’s in a will?  During the probate process, the law requires that each person named as a beneficiary of the will, or who is an heir of the deceased, be notified of the decedent’s death and be provided with a copy of the will. 

During the probate process, the executor is required to file various forms and accountings with the courts, and those records also often have to be shared with the beneficiaries of the will to keep them informed of what is going on. 

Finally, at the conclusion of the probate process, each beneficiary usually has to sign a receipt or written consent approving the executor’s handling of the estate and that the beneficiary received what he or she was entitled to.

To learn more about estate planning, check out our free guide, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The 12 Most Common Threats to Your Estate & Your Family's Future, or to discuss your estate planning concerns, please call our office at 919-443-3035 or use our contact form.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning