While a will is a private document, privy only to the testator – the person who wrote it – and their solicitor, that changes once the will writer dies.
But who’s entitled to see the will and when? Are there any unique scenarios where things change?
Here are some practical things you need to know to get a copy of a will.
After the death of the testator
Until the testator dies and a grant of probate is issued, it can be difficult to get a copy of the will unless you’re one of the executors of the will. They are entitled to see it.
The position regarding other people obtaining a copy of the will differs according to whether there is a grant of representation or not, the most common of which is a grant of probate. Executors will sometimes show the will to beneficiaries of the will in any event.
After probate is granted, the will becomes a public document, and anybody can apply to have a copy of it.
Once that happens, you can find the will on the Government website. Each copy of a probate record online costs £1.50. It also costs £1.50 for a search by post.
If a person died within the last six months, a grant may not have been issued yet. In this case, you should check the online search service to see when a grant has been issued.
Alternatively, you can set up a ‘standing search’ with the Probate Registry to be sent a copy of the will and the grant of probate automatically.
After a period of six months without a result, your standing search will expire, but you can extend it for a further six months within one month of the expiry date by sending a further £3.
Obtaining a will if there is no grant of probate
In some cases, it’s not necessary to apply for a grant of probate, such as if the person who died only had limited savings.
If no application for probate is made, it may be difficult for anyone to obtain a copy of the will of the deceased. This is because a will remains a private, rather than public, document.
In these circumstances, the personal representatives may still send a copy of the will to the main beneficiaries. If they do not do so on request, it would be necessary to seek legal advice to establish what it would be possible to do.
Obtaining a will before the death of the testator
Because a will is a private document, its means nobody other than the testator is entitled to receive a copy of it. Solicitors are under special duty to keep their clients’ affairs confidential.
However, there may be exceptional circumstances where the will of an alive testator may be disclosed (for example to an attorney), but specific legal advice would be needed about this.
Yet, a will has no effect until the testator’s death; they’re entitled to change or revoke their will at any time if they are of sound mind.
Talk to us about your grant of probate or for help writing your will.