Who has access to a person’s last will and testament?

Wealthy estates in Texas are often passed down from generation to generation. So how does it happen? With all family members gathered into the family lawyer’s conference room after the head of the family dies — where the attorney then reads the will aloud to the hopeful attendees like we see on television? Not really, or not as a general rule anyway. Wills do not have to be read aloud or with all parties present.

In normal circumstances, the attorney mails a copy of the will to the relevant parties, which is usually the executor of the will and the beneficiaries listed in the will. The executor of the will is the party that has been named by the deceased to be responsible for ensuring that his or her last will and testament is carried out.

What about disinherited heirs who may have been in a previous will? Do they get a copy? By law, a copy is not required to be sent to them; however, an attorney can send them a copy if they believe they will be challenging the will. This could speed up the probate process if the disinherited heirs make a decision to fight the new will. When a will goes into probate, it is made a public record anyway.

What about pour-over wills? A pour-over will is a will that declares that the estate goes to the living will at the time of death — where it will be disbursed by the trustee of the living will. In this case, if the executor of the estate and the trustee are the same person, a copy of the will is sent to the trustee and to the beneficiaries. If the executor of the estate and the trustee are different, a copy only needs to be sent to each of them.

Pour-over wills have pros and cons. A pour-over will, along with a living will, can keep the estate owner from having to put all of his or her assets into the living will while he or she is alive. On the other hand, the assets in the will may end up in probate, while the assets in the living will do not have to go to probate court. Also, wills become public records when they go to probate, and living trusts are private and are not made public.

Source: about money, “What Happens at the Reading of a Will?” Julie Garber, Sep. 17, 2014