On television and the movies when someone dies, there is usually a formal will reading that is held. We have all seen it, all of the family gathered in the lawyer’s office as he or she reads the decedent’s will, usually to the shock of the family as everything is to some unexpected person and chaos ensues. Is this what has to happen according to the law in New York City?
The answer is no, there does not have to be a formal will reading for the family of the deceased. These formal will readings perhaps happened long ago, but now are used mainly as an entertainment plot device and are not something that actually happens in the real world. This does not mean that a ceremonial will reading cannot be done, just that it doesn’t have to happen under the law. It would really be up to the executor if he or she wants a formal will reading for the family. Presently, the family of someone who recently dies usually finds out how the decedent’s assets will be distributed in another way.
Under the law, anyone who is mentioned in the will must get a notice from the executor, including a copy of the will for their own use. Usually, this will be done by the New York City estate attorney who works for the executor since, along with a copy of the will, there will also usually be a special form asking the beneficiary to allow the will to proceed to probate. All of this is usually one of the first steps when it comes to settling an estate in New York. None of it actually involves any face to face contact between the beneficiary and executor or the executor’s attorney and the beneficiaries never have to be in the same room together.
As mentioned above, this does not mean to say that the executor is not allowed to hold a will reading, just that he or she doesn’t have to. It is really a decision that is up to the executor. This is also a decision that should not be entered into lightly, either. It is always wise for the executor to read the will before entering into a decision as to if a formal reading will take place and the circumstances should be taken into account. For example, if the beneficiaries all get along and there are no bombshells in the will, there would most likely be no issue with gathering everyone together to have the will read. On the other hand, if there is a dysfunctional family dynamic and the testator left everything to the black sheep of the family, having everyone gather together for a formal reading could be a recipe for disaster that could even lead to litigation if someone becomes angry.
If you have been made an executor, you should hire a New York City estate attorney to assist you in your duties. No matter how competent you think you are, settling an estate is a complicated business and a mistake could create some financial issues that may even affect you personally. It is best that you hire someone to assist you to settle the estate to make sure it is done correctly.
If you would like to speak to a New York City estate attorney, give us a call at (212) 233-1233.