Estate planning attorneys are commonly asked about a number of legal issues that have little or no basis in reality. One of the more popular misconceptions is the idea that after you die your family and friends will have to gather in a room and listen to your lawyer read the terms of your will. Though this misperception is often reinforced by movies or television, it is almost entirely a fictional device and is not required in any state.
The “reading of the will” idea probably originated from colonial or earlier times. When literacy rates were lower and making duplicate copies of documents was more difficult, lawyers may have read the will to the beneficiaries instead of mailing copies. Today, however, copies are easy to make and the estate representative will notify the beneficiaries of their gifts or inheritances as part of the probate process. Further, all wills are filed with the probate office soon after the will maker dies. Because probate records are matters of public record, that means anyone who wishes to inspect the document can do so at any time after it’s been filed.
While the reading of the will is not legally required, there may be some people who would like to have this ceremony performed and make it a condition of their will. While this may be possible, it is a needless and time-consuming formality that will cost far more time and money than it is worth. A good alternative is to make a videotape in which you read your will or convey a message to your friends and loved ones.