Who is entitled to a copy of a will?

When an individual passes away and leaves behind a will, there are various regulations and procedures that must be followed such as filing the will in probate court and distributing the estate's assets to beneficiaries by the executor of the estate. During the process of distributing assets according to the will, interested parties may ask to view copies of the will. Whether or not a party requesting an opportunity to view and receive a copy depends on who they are, their role in creating or managing the will, and their relationship with the deceased.

Who Is Entitled to a Copy of the Will?

Anyone who is an immediate family member of the deceased, whether or not he or she is listed in the will, is legally entitled to view a copy. The same applies to anyone who is listed in the will as a beneficiary. Legal or financial advisers and professionals involved with the estate such as trustees, appointed lawyers, and probate judges or any court officials involved in its filing are also entitled to view the will. Those are the primary parties who may request access to a will, but there are other less groups of people that also have a legal right to view and receive copies of the document.

Other Interested Parties

Other people who may view or obtain copies of a will include:  

  • Anyone named in the will, even if not as a beneficiary;
  • Anyone previously named as a beneficiary in an earlier version of the will;
  • Anyone that would have been entitled to receive an inheritance by law had the deceased not left a will;
  • Anyone with a child who is named in the will (and is a minor);
  • Anyone with a child who would have been entitled to an inheritance had the deceased not left a will (and is a minor);
  • Anyone who is owed money by the deceased.

Depending on the circumstances, this list is not exclusive and other parties may be able to demonstrate they have enough of an interest in the will to request a copy of it.  Anyone with connections to the deceased, the family, or a beneficiary of the assets may present an argument that they should be entitled to view the will.

How to Obtain Access to a Will

Typically, the easiest way to obtain access to the will is to approach one of the individuals who either has a copy or has access to one as they are obligated to give you access if you’re legally entitled to it. Your best bet is to approach one of the professionals involved in the estate rather than, say, a family member. Talking to an attorney or adviser who has the will, and who is versed in the law, will be much more efficient than speaking to a family member or friend who might not understand your legal right to view the document. You may also make a formal request to the probate court that you should be allowed to view the will. Once the will has gone through probate, the information within it becomes public record, and is available to anyone who chooses to search for it, but up until that time access to the information is controlled. This is done to protect privacy as well as security and to ensure that all the statutes of the will are carried out as smoothly and efficiently as possible.