Who is Entitled to See the Will?
A Will is a living document and will change over the course of your lifetime. You are allowed to show your Will to anyone you like, but you are also entitled to keep it private. Upon execution of your Will, you should confirm with your estate trustee that they have been named in your Will and where the original Will is kept. We provide a list of general estate trustee duties that you may give to the estate trustee. Other than your estate trustee, there may not be anyone who needs to know what is in your Will prior to your death.
It is quite common for family members or close friends to ask whether they are named in the Will when a person passes away. However, the fact that you are related to the deceased person is not in itself a reason to allow you to see the deceased’s Will.
If necessary, after your death your executor/estate trustee will use the original Will to apply for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee with a Will (aka a probate application). If the Application is made, the original Will is filed with the court. When an Application with a Will has been filed with the court, any individual can contact the court office and request a copy of the deceased person’s Will, as the Will now becomes a public document. There is a fee payable to the court for the copy.
For the estate trustee, the Will is a private document and should not be shown to everyone who expresses an interest in its contents, regardless of whether that person wonders if he or she is a beneficiary. In Ontario, everyone who is a beneficiary of an estate will, at the time the Application for Certificate of Appointment is applied for, will receive a letter advising them of the gift left to them under the Will. Beneficiaries who are entitled to inherit a portion the residue of the estate are entitled to receive a copy of the entire Will and the Notice of Application. Beneficiaries who are going to inherit a specific item or a specific sum of money will get a copy of the Notice of Application but may not receive a copy of the whole Will, just a copy of the provision granting the gift or bequest as this is all that is required to be provided by the Estate Trustee.
Sometimes, an individual will have a reasonable expectation of being a beneficiary but has not received a notice. For example, the person might have been told by the deceased person that he or she would be a beneficiary or, the person might have a copy of an earlier Will of the deceased, in which the person was named as a beneficiary. In that situation, you should consult with a lawyer to discuss your options.