The reading of a Will does not happen like you see in the movies and it is not common for the family and beneficiaries named in this document to gather in the offices of a solicitor to hear a formal reading.
In this guide, we talk you through the process of how a Will is read, the timescales for doing this and what you can expect to happen as an Executor and/or a beneficiary.
Who Reads the Will?
Popular media depictions of the reading of a Will usually present a scene in a lawyer’s office in which grieving relatives are invited to hear a formal reading of the will by a solicitor. In reality, this rarely happens.
Instead, the appointed Executor(s) for the deceased’s estate are merely charged with the responsibility to find and validate the Last Will and Testament before notifying those people who are named within it, or who may be affected by its contents.
When Is the Will Read?
There are no legal requirements as to the length of time taken to read a Will nor to execute the full process of settling the estate of the deceased.
The only set time regulations which the Executors must abide by is the requirement to pay Inheritance Tax to the HMRC. This must be done within six months of the end of the month in which death occurred.
In general, it takes around 9-12 months for the deceased’s affairs to be settled and the estate distributed to its beneficiaries in accordance with the Will.
However, it is typical for a Will to be read early in the process of settling an Estate to:
- identify any requests that the deceased may have for their funeral service,
- enable the Executors to establish how the finances, property and possessions are to be divided, and
- allow any/all beneficiaries named in the will early notice in case there are any objections.
It is also common practice for the Executor to inform other people not named in the Will who may be affected by the terms, or content, of the Will. This can include the deceased’s accountant who may have information about investments or business dealings which could affect probate and/or relatives who believe they may have a legitimate claim to the estate of the deceased.
When Do Beneficiaries Receive Their Inheritance?
Inheritance can only be paid from the Estate of the deceased once a Grant of Probate has been issued (where applicable), all assets collected and all debts have been paid off. This includes the funeral bill plus estate administration costs such as accountants’ and solicitors’ fees.
Probate normally takes around three months to be granted and but in England & Wales can take between six to nine months.
Because Inheritance Tax is not usually paid until six months after death and the Executors must wait for clearance from the HMRC that their return is in order, most beneficiaries will not receive their inheritance until after this date.
In situations where no Inheritance Tax is payable and probate is straightforward, a deceased’s estate can be settled in around three to six months.
What Can Delay Inheritance from Being Paid to Beneficiaries?
There can be delays associated with the formal settling of inheritance to beneficiaries named in a Will.
This commonly happens with complex estates that involve multiple and complicated financial investments; this can sometimes occur where the deceased was an owner of a company.
Delays can also occur if there are challenges to the Will or if a beneficiary is unable to be found.
What Can I Do If I Believe the Executors Are Taking an Unreasonable Amount of Time?
Knowing how long probate can take should give most people a clear idea of the lengthy process involved in settling an estate.
However, there are some cases where Executors may not be carrying out their duties either diligently and/or promptly.
If you feel that this is the case then it is recommended that you speak, first, directly with the Executor(s) to raise your concerns.
Remember that the role of the Executor is to carry out the administration of an estate both to settle finances in accordance with the law but also in the best interests of the beneficiaries.
Beneficiaries do have a legal right to make a claim against an Executor if they are believed not to be fulfilling their duties in a responsible and scrupulous way.
What Happens if There is No Will?
If someone dies ‘Intestate’, meaning they left no, or an invalid, Last Will & Testament, then the Rules of Intestacy will apply to the probate process.
This can often cause delays to the process of settling an estate but, on average, takes nine to twelve months.
Delays in receiving inheritance can occur in the same way as detailed above, where a lawful Last Will & Testament has been verified.