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Adrian Corbould: I leave my 1972 Gran Torino to… the reading of the will.

Hello, I’m Adrian Corbould, Accredited Specialist in Wills & Estates at Turnbull Hill Lawyers, where I talk about contested estates and wills generally.

You’ve seen it in all the movies and the TV shows when someone dies, the family gather into the lawyer’s office for a reading of the will, with the lawyer carefully reads through the terms of the will and says who received something and who didn’t to the gasps and sighs of the family members. I’ve got to tell you, that’s Hollywood.

In New South Wales, at least, that is not the case. When someone dies and they leave a will, and that will is probated, there is no requirement for the executor or the executor’s solicitor to arrange a reading of the will. Generally, what happens is that at some point prior to distribution, the beneficiaries named in that will, will be contacted to inform them that they are going to receive a benefit, and it will be paid to them via bank deposit, or cheque.

If a beneficiary is contacted by an executor’s solicitor to have a reading of the will, which I’ve never actually heard happening in New South Wales, they don’t have to attend. There’s a law, Section 54 of the Succession Act, that says that if someone has as a will, or a revoked will, copy of a will, and someone is named as a beneficiary in that will, then the person holding it must give a copy of the will to that person on request. What that means is that if you are a beneficiary of a will, or think you are a beneficiary, you can contact the person who you believe holds the will, the executor, or the deceased’s solicitor who generally would likely have a copy of it, and ask them, am I a beneficiary to this will?

If you are a beneficiary, they have to give you a copy. If you are not, they do not have to give you a copy of the will unless you’re in a certain class of persons, which includes spouses, people who may have an equitable claim on the estate such as a family provision, eligible person, and some other few minor categories.

Generally, if you’re not named in it, there is no obligation that you be contacted. The relevance of finding out if you’re named as a beneficiary or not in a will is that in New South Wales there’s a time limit to bring a family provision claim, and that’s 12 months from date of death. If someone has an expectation that they’ve been left a benefit, but do nothing about it, and that 12 months comes and goes, they’ll then be deemed out of time to bring a claim on the estate. What would be suggested that if someone believes they’re a beneficiary of the estate, they should contact the executor just to find out and make sure and get a copy of the will.

If someone isn’t a beneficiary, there are ways to get a copy of the will generally by if probate has been granted, any member of the public can contact the Probate Registry to get an exemplification, which means just get a formal copy of the grant of probate, which includes a copy of the will.

If they are named as a beneficiary, they can also get a copy of the inventory of assets, but if they’re not a beneficiary of the will, all they’ll get is a copy of the front page of the probate with a copy of the will.

Anyway, that’s Hollywood for you. There’s no reading of the will. I hope this has been of interest. Talk to you again next time.

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