Every month, our office receives calls from people who are seeking legal advice on their right to view a Will. They tell us that the executor of an estate is refusing to show them the document and they want to know what their rights are; and the answer to this depends on who they are and what their relationship is with the deceased. Let us explain.
An executor is entitled to maintain the privacy of the deceased. There is no legal obligation for them show the Will to anyone, nor do they have to provide the document to anyone who requests a copy. Further, there is no legal right for anyone to demand to view a Will shortly after a death. If the Will is being held by a lawyer, that lawyer has no obligation to provide a copy of the document to anyone other than the executor of the estate. The hired lawyer acts under the direction of the executor, and unless they were instructed to share the Will, they cannot distribute copies to family members or to friends of the deceased.
In Alberta, if an individual is named as beneficiary of an estate, they should receive a registered letter advising them of such at the time the executor applies for probate. Beneficiaries who are going to inherit a specific item or a specific sum of money are entitled to view select pages wherein they are named; they will not receive a copy of the probate application. Residual beneficiaries, however, will receive a complete copy of the Will and will receive all court filings (in addition to the registered letter).
Following the executor's application for a grant of probate at the Court of Queens Bench, family members and friends who did not receive a registered letter can attend the courthouse, view the Will and request copies.
If the executor did not apply for a grant of probate, and if an individual has reasonable grounds to believe they are a beneficiary of the estate and did not receive notice of such, they can make a court application and request that the court compel the executor to either apply for a grant of probate, or renounce their right to apply.
If you have any further questions about your right to view a Will, contact our office for a consultation meeting with one of our experienced estate lawyers. Remember, we are here to help!