You've seen it in the movies, on TV, and read about it
in novels and detective stories: After a death occurs, the family solemnly gathers in the
lawyer's office and the will is officially read by the attorney. The suspense is
overwhelming, and surprises always occur.
The reality is that there is no legal requirement in
have an official reading of the will after the testator has died. California
law requires that the will be filed with the Superior Court of the county in
which the decedent lived.
Attorneys will sometimes send copies of the will to the heirs, but it is
unlikely that the attorney will hold a meeting for the purpose of reading the
will to the family members. After the will is filed with the Superior
Court, it becomes a
public document and can be viewed by anyone who goes to the Superior Court and
asks to see the file.
Convening a meeting for the reading of the will can
cause problems if the will does not give equal shares of the estate to family
members. Tempers may flare and angry decisions may be made that can
result in will contests. (A will contest is a lawsuit asking that the
will be found to be invalid.) Most will contests are futile, but if a contest is
filed, it is likely to delay distribution of the estate.
If a probate is held, the will is part of the probate
file and can be viewed at the Superior Court. If there is no probate,
the will is kept in a separate file, but it remains part of the public record.
There is also no official reading of a trust.
However, if the trust has become irrevocable due to the death, the successor trustee is required to notify the beneficiaries and
heirs of the decedent that they can request copies of the trust and all of its
amendments. The trustee can be liable to the beneficiaries for not
notifying them that they can request copies of the trust and all of its
Estate planning documents, such as wills, trusts, and powers
of attorney, are confidential documents during the lifetime of the
person who signed them.