Our Team Of Local Solicitors For Wills Answer: Are Wills Private?
Posted on 20th August 2020
When we are drafting Wills on behalf of our Wills clients, we are often asked whether they should tell their loved ones or intended beneficiaries about the contents of their Will. Our answer for this question is always the same: a Will is a completely private document during your lifetime, and you do not have to make anybody else aware of the contents whilst you are still alive.
However, if you feel that you have no choice other than to make your intended beneficiaries, or perhaps those who may expect to be a beneficiary but are not, aware of the contents of your Will, we cannot stop you from doing so.
Do I have to tell my spouse the details of my Will?
The answer to this question is the same as above: if you have decided to make a Will without the knowledge of your spouse, or you have not shared the details of your Will with them, you do not have to do so. Just because you are married to someone, or in a civil partnership with them, this does not mean that they are automatically entitled to know the details of your Estate, and who you are leaving it to.
That being said, if you feel that you want to share this information with them, then it is your decision to do so.
In many cases, our local solicitors for Wills find that married couples or civil partners, even partners who are not married, will approach our team to make “mirror” Wills. These are Wills that reflect each other. So, both partners may leave everything to each other, and then, on the second death, to a specific set of people.
Should I give a copy of my Will to my Executors?
Again, our local Wills solicitors would not recommend giving anybody a copy of your Will, although it could be helpful for your Executors or loved ones to know where the original is stored, to prevent this being missed by them after you have died. You may find it easier to leave details of where your Will is stored somewhere safe for your loved ones to find after your death. Alternatively, you may give them the details before you die: for example, some of our Will clients will take additional business cards for our Wills Department, and pass these to their Executors.
Wills are Private Documents
Until your death, you Will is a private document, the contents of which should not be shared with anybody without your permission.
If you lose capacity, the Court can Order that this information is shared with certain people. However, they would not do so unless it was in your very best interests.
Can Wills be public documents?
After you have died, if Probate is required to deal with your Estate, you Will becomes a public document. This means that anyone can apply to purchase a copy of the document. An application for Probate will need to be made, either by the Executors or the Administrators (if the deceased did not leave a Will), if your Estate is anything over a ‘small’ Estate size. Unfortunately, this is not always a set amount, however, you can read more about when Probate is required in our local Probate Solicitor’s blog, here.
A person’s Estate is made up of any assets that they owned when they died, such as property, money in the bank or investments.
When you are making a Will, our local solicitors for Wills always advise that you avoid including any information that is personal, to avoid this becoming public. For example, if you want to explain to someone why you have left them a particular gift, or you wish to leave a note for your loved ones to read, you should include this information in a separate letter to be placed with your Will. That way, even if your Will becomes a public document, the letter will remain private, only being read by those who have a right to read it – i.e. those who it is addressed to.
When does a Will become a public document?
As our local Probate Solicitors have explained above, if a Grant of Probate needs to be obtained in order for the Executors to administer the Estate, they will usually need to submit your original Will along with the application for Probate, to the Probate Registry.
Once the Grant of Probate has been issued by the Probate Registry, anybody will be able to obtain a copy of this document off the internet, and therefore obtain a copy of your Will. To obtain a copy of a loved one’s Will, providing that Probate has been issued, visit gov.uk, here.
The database was established around the start of 2015, following an announcement that over 41 million Wills, dating as far back as 1858, would be made available online, as well as any Wills processed after the announcement.
This announcement, for some, was welcomed; genealogists could now access even more information about their family and loved ones over the years, to help build a clearer picture of their family tree. In addition, relatives or loved ones who were unsure whether they had been left anything by a deceased person can now, for a small fee, check online to see the contents of the deceased’s Will.
For others, they felt that Wills should be private documents and should never be made accessible to the public.
Despite the split in opinions, the change was implemented and since 2015 Wills have been publicly available from the Probate Registry.
When does the Will not become a public document?
If Probate is not required to deal with a loved one’s Estate, the Executors will not be required to submit the Will to the Probate Registry, and therefore, it will not become a public document.
Our local solicitors for Wills would point out that only your final Will made before your death will be produced to the Probate Registry; any previous Wills made should usually be revoked by your new Will and therefore will be irrelevant to any application for Probate. If your previous Will was not revoked, this could form part of your “new” Will, too. You can read more about revoking a Will in our blog, here. Previous Wills would usually remain private between those who may have access to them (for example, if you left them with your new Will for your Executors to read) and you (and your local solicitors for Wills who drafted the document).
Letters of Wishes
As explained by our local Probate Solicitors above, any information written separately to your Will, sometimes referred to as Letters of Wishes, will remain private between you and whoever they are addressed to. If you do not address the letters to anyone in particular, it will probably be left to your Trustees to read these and pass the contents on to the intended participants.
A letter of wishes is not legally binding and will remain private, never becoming a public document.
Where would I store a letter of wishes?
To ensure that any such letter is accessible after you have died, our local solicitors for Wills would always recommend storing any letter with your original Will. This will also make sure it is not missed by your Executors.
When you make a Will with our expert team at MG Legal, we will store your Will, along with any letters or additional documents, at no charge to you at all. In addition, we will not charge your Executors for retrieving your Will after your death; once we have received the correct proof of their entitlement to see your Will, we will release this document to them immediately.
Our local solicitors for Wills have previously discussed when Wills become public documents in their blog, here.
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