Your Will is an incredibly sensitive legal document that contains a lot of personal information. You may be worried about who will be able to see your Will before and after you pass away, so we’ve put together a guide to explain who can see it, at what time, and whether it becomes public.
Is Your Will a Public Document?
While you are still alive, your Will is a private document that only your executors are entitled to see. You can choose to show it to others, but you do not have to. Nobody else, even beneficiaries of the Will, have the right to see it.
All previous versions of your Will remain private, and if anyone requests to see your current Will, the person or organisation storing it should not show it to them or provide a copy without the permission of the executors or the testator if they are still alive. However, if your estate requires probate to be administered and distributed, your Will enters the private records for England and Wales, and anyone can apply to see it as probate requires your executors to send your Will to the Probate Registry before they can begin distributing your estate to your beneficiaries.
There is no legal requirement for the executors to show any of the beneficiaries the Will; however, this can create tension if the beneficiaries ask for a copy and the executor refuses. Should this happen, they can ask a solicitor to make a formal request. Even if the request is granted, executors can release Wills with redacted information or have conditions attached to it.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal document granting executors the right to share your estate after you pass away. For very small, straightforward estates, probate may not be needed, but for estates which include property or are more complex, probate will be necessary.
Probate proves that the Will is valid and makes it a public record to which people can request access. Therefore, your beneficiaries can see what is written within it. That said, there are ways to keep sensitive information private.
Can You Keep Information Private?
Anything written in your final Will may be public knowledge if your estate requires probate to administer. However, if there is something you would like to keep private, you can keep it separate from your Will and write a Letter of Wishes instead.
Although a Letter of Wishes is not legally binding, it must not go against the wishes laid out in your Will. It can help to guide your executors and family members through administering your estate and will not become public after you pass away, even if your executors need to apply for probate.
If there are any decisions you have made in your Will that you feel it is important for your loved ones to understand, a Letter of Wishes can explain your motivations and outline how you would like them to distribute your estate. It is good practice to write your Letter of Wishes at the same time as you write your Will when you are focusing on the issues at hand so you can review them both at the same time.
You may choose to include some of the following in your Letter of Wishes:
- Messages to friends and family
- Instructions for your funeral
- Reasons that certain people are or are not inheriting certain assets
- Explanations for why someone has been excluded from the Will
- Reasons for choosing a charity to leave money to
You do not need anyone to witness your Letter of Wishes, but you should sign and date the letter. It can also be helpful to keep the letter stored with your Will so that it is easy for your executors to find after you pass away.
Your executors play a vital role in administering your estate. They are responsible for ensuring that all your beneficiaries receive their inheritance, all necessary taxes are paid, and bills and debts are settled. As they play such an important part in your estate, you must choose executors that you trust will be able to handle your affairs.
Anyone over eighteen years old who has not been declared bankrupt can be an executor, even if they are a beneficiary of the Will. Many people choose their spouse, children, or a close friend. You can name multiple executors for your Will, so if one passes away before you, you always have at least one person available to distribute your estate.
Duties of executors include:
- Identifying and resolving claims on the estate
- Paying any Inheritance Tax due on the estate
- Keeping beneficiaries informed about the process and provided with documentation
Choosing your executors is important as they have a significant role in your estate administration. In some cases, people decide to go with a professional executor to take the weight off their family’s shoulders during a difficult time. While this can be effective, remember that this can also be very expensive, as professional executors will require a fee to carry out their work.
There are many reasons you may want to keep some information private from your beneficiaries once you have passed away, and in this instance, it may be easier not to put this information in your Will, as it can eventually become a public document if your estate requires probate. Instead, a Letter of Wishes can keep sensitive information private, so only your trusted executors will be able to see it.
Get in touch with The Planning Bee today for advice on how to craft a Will to secure your family’s future. Our experts are here to help you with bespoke estate planning services.