It is not uncommon for people who talk to an estate planning attorney to ask questions about the reading of the will. After all, all of us have seen countless television shows and movies where attorneys gather together family members of a deceased person to read the terms of that person’s last will and testament. This reading of the will is often an opportunity for dramatic turns in the plot, but it is, unfortunately, almost entirely a fictional device.
To put it simply, if you craft a last will and testament in the state of North Carolina, or anywhere else, there will almost certainly not be a reading of the will at any point.
Modern Probate and Last Wills and Testaments
Probate is the legal process that applies to the property left behind by deceased people. The probate process is designed to account for all the property left behind by those who have died and make sure it is transferred to its rightful new owners. These owners can be family members, creditors, or other inheritors. All states have their own set of probate laws, but the probate process is generally the same regardless of where you live.
The process starts after a person dies. Once this happens, someone will have to notify the local probate court of the death and ask the court to open a new probate case. Once opened, the court will have to appoint someone to manage the estate. That person is typically known as an executor, personal representative, or estate administrator.
Regardless of the title, is the administrator’s duty to make sure the estate property is protected until new owners can be identified. The process in which an administrator collects all of the estate properties, notifies potential new owners that the estate has been opened, and begins the process of distributing the property is generally known as the ‘settling of the estate.’ If the deceased left behind a last will and testament, that document will be submitted before the court, and the court will have to determine if it is legally valid. If there is no will, the administrator will distribute property on the basis of state inheritance laws.
Modern Probate and Reading of the Will
Even though our discussion of the probate process was necessarily brief, you will notice that we made no mention of a reading of the will. That’s because North Carolina does not require there be any kind of public reading of the will at all, nor does any other state.
Probate cases are matters of public record, and any will left behind by a deceased person will become part of that record. This means that anyone who wishes can simply inspect the will whenever he or she likes.
Readings of the will, though they might appear dramatic, are simply not part of the modern probate process.