The Reading of the Will 

You've seen it in the movies, on TV, and read about it in novels and detective stories:  After a death occurs, the family solemnly gathers in the lawyer's office and the will is officially read by the attorney.  The suspense is overwhelming, and surprises always occur.

The reality is that there is no legal requirement in California to have an official reading of the will after the testator has died. California law requires that the will be filed with the Superior Court of the county in which the decedent lived.  Attorneys will sometimes send copies of the will to the heirs, but it is unlikely that the attorney will hold a meeting for the purpose of reading the will to the family members.  After the will is filed with the Superior Court, it becomes a public document and can be viewed by anyone who goes to the Superior Court and asks to see the file. 

Convening a meeting for the reading of the will can cause problems if the will does not give equal shares of the estate to family members.  Tempers may flare and angry decisions may be made that can result in will contests.  (A will contest is a lawsuit asking that the will be found to be invalid.)  Most will contests are futile, but if a contest is filed, it is likely to delay distribution of the estate.

If a probate is held, the will is part of the probate file and can be viewed at the Superior Court.  If there is no probate, the will is kept in a separate file, but it remains part of the public record.

There is also no official reading of a trust.  However, if the trust has become irrevocable due to the death, the successor trustee is required to notify the beneficiaries and heirs of the decedent that they can request copies of the trust and all of its amendments.  The trustee can be liable to the beneficiaries for not notifying them that they can request copies of the trust and all of its amendments.

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