The reading of the will is a great scene in many television shows and movies when potential heirs learn of they’ll become wealthy, or simply inherit their aunt’s no longer fashionable mink coat. But it doesn’t actually happen often in the real world. Instead the estate’s attorney distributes copies of the will or trust to various interested parties, including the personal representative, beneficiaries, and trustees. These individuals can read the documents themselves.
Eventually, if the will is probated, it will become public and anyone can read it. That’s not true of trust documents, which are private, which can cut both ways. On the one hand, most people prefer privacy, which use of a trust provides. But there can be some benefits to the public nature of the probate process, since it means that all heirs can check to make sure they’re getting their rightful share.
While there’s almost never a formal “reading of the will,” once the estate planning documents are distributed, there may in fact be a meeting with the estate attorney, whether in person, or by video conference or conference call. The reason to have a meeting that includes everyone is to avoid misunderstandings or mistrust. The more open the communication, the less likely beneficiaries will be to suspect that the estate is not being administered fairly or efficiently. It’s better that they understand what impediments there may be that prevent a rapid distribution of trust assets.
Further, if everyone with an interest in the estate is at the meeting with the attorney, there’s less likely to be miscommunication since everyone will hear the same thing. They also will be able to ask their questions directly and receive a more timely response.
So, while the formal “reading of the will” may be archaic or simply created in fiction for dramatic effect, a meeting of the heirs with the estate attorney can make a lot of sense.