No doubt you have all seen the dramatic movie scene when the family are seated before the lawyer who reads out the contents of the Will and then the camera pans to the excited/disappointed/angry faces of the family in turn.
That scene pretty much only happens in Hollywood. It is rare in Australia for there to be a "reading of the will" — these days the contents of a will are much more easily and appropriately distributed by people being provided with a copy of the will. Photocopiers and the internet have changed the way!
Once a willmaker dies, the Will is under the control of the executor. They determine if copies are to be sent to anyone. However section 50 of the Wills Act states that a number of people are entitled to be given a copy of the Will if a request is made:
- any person named or referred to in the Will, whether as a beneficiary or not;
- any person named or referred to in any earlier Will as a beneficiary;
- any spouse of the deceased at the date of death;
- any domestic partner of the deceased
- any parent, guardian or children of the deceased;
- any person who would be entitled to a share of the estate if the deceased person had died without making a Will;
- any parent or guardian of a child referred to in the Will or who would be entitled to a share of the estate if the deceased had died without making a Will; or
- any creditor or other person is a claim at law or in equity against the estate of the deceased and who produces evidence of that claim.
It is sensible for beneficiaries to be given a copy of the will, even prior to them asking. Doing this often avoids the angst caused by uncertainty and speculation. There is a natural curiosity when a person dies as to what provision they have made in their Will. Keeping secrets might change curiosity into frustration and anger.
Once the probate application has been filed, any member of the public can obtain a copy of the Will upon providing payment of the search fee.
Given that so many people might possibly read the Will after death has occurred, is a reminder that great care should be taken when making any comments that are justification of decisions made. You should consider explanations where it is appropriate. It is best to avoid words that are merely intended to hurt or offend.
It is a good idea for you to look at your current will in light of the matters discussed above. If you think that your will needs more explanation given the potential audience you should contact one of our Will & Powers of Attorney team on 03 5445 1000 to discuss further.