William D. Stilley, Esq.
Hollywood Fact or Fiction: Reading of the Will
You know the scene. The grieving family gathers in a room, usually with leather chairs and books. The siblings are bickering, while the Aunt and Mother gossip away. Suddenly the lawyer comes in with a Last Will and Testament in his hand. He sits at the desk and breaks the seal. He begins to read the will.
“To my wife, I leave my home and beloved hunting dogs.
To my sons, I leave my vintage sports cars.
To my housekeeper, I leave the remainder of my assets and fortune”
The room erupts.
We’ve all seen movies and tv shows with a scene like this. Many people assume this is a true to life depiction of the execution of someone’s last will and testament. But the truth is, the reading of the will is a Hollywood invention to add drama to a story. But if the ceremonial reading of a will isn’t the truth, then what is?
When someone who has a will dies, rather than gathering all the heirs together at once, heirs are typically individually contacted to inform them that they have been listed as a beneficiary of an estate. They may receive this notice from the probate attorney, or they may receive it from the probate court itself. Once the will is filed with the probate court the will is public record and anyone can obtain a copy of the will. When the will is filed, it is included with a petition asking the court to recognize the will as a the true last will and testament of the decedent.
The attorney will also file an application for the appointment of the personal representative of the estate. The personal representative is in charge of administering the estate, paying, or contesting the final bills owed by the estate. They can also sign documents for the probate court, and make distributions of assets according to the will.
One bit of truth to the Hollywood version of events, is the secrecy surrounding the will before death. While a person has the right to tell whoever they want what is in their own will, often times people do prefer to keep it a secret until after their death. Some reasons people might keep their will secret are because they fear that certain beneficiaries may be upset or treat them differently, privacy, or decisions in the will may cause family disunity. One can imagine how some decisions can cause dissension in a family.
A common misconception is that having a will means you avoid probate. This is not true. Your estate still goes through the probate process after you die, but a will gives you more of a say in what happens to your assets. Dying without a will, called intestate, leaves decisions regarding your finances and assets up to the court which will distribute things by the laws of inheritance. An example of the Laws of Inheritance would be someone’s long lost uncle passing away, and a distant next of kin is named as beneficiary due to no closer descendants of the decedent being alive. A will allows you to dictate what is distributed to whom, and it allows you to determine who will be the personal representative.
Having a will is very important, even if there isn’t the pomp and circumstance to it that Hollywood would like us to believe. A will is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family because it reduces a lot of possible headaches for your family after you are gone. Stilley Law Office, LLC offers will drafting services. Call us at 816-325-3713 and make an appointment today!