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How does the reading of a will really take place?

During the estate planning process, many people want to know if a "reading of the will" occurs as seen in many television shows and films. Most of the time, people expect family members and close friends to be called together to hear the terms of the deceased person's will. While this type of gathering creates a lot of drama on screen, this is not the way it typically works in real life.

In New York and elsewhere, handling the last will and testament of the deceased is called probate and the process begins shortly after death. Once a probate case is opened through the local probate court, the involved parties will receive a copy of the deceased's will rather than attend an actual reading to hear the terms of the document. In most cases, the people who receive a copy include the estate administrator or the executor and any beneficiaries named in the will.

Sometimes, an accountant for the deceased's estate will also receive a copy of the will. This is because the accountant needs to address any debt left behind such as estate and income tax as well as any loans or credit-related debt. The accountant will want to examine the will to see if the deceased left provisions on how to pay these debts.

If the deceased has not provided a will, his or her assets will be distributed in accordance with New York's inheritance laws. This means that the deceased will have no say in how any property left behind is distributed. As such, even those with minimal assets will benefit from working with an estate planning attorney to formulate a will that addresses the distribution of assets after death.

Source: Wills.About.com, "What Happens at the Reading of a Will?," Julie Garber, accessed Dec. 17, 2015

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