Who Has the Right to See a Will?
Prior to someone passing away, no one has the ”right” to review someone else’s will. Obviously anyone can ask to see the will, but generally this kind of request is considered presumptuous — even for close family members. After someone has died, the executor of the estate files the will in probate court. Once probate has begun, that will is part of the official court record and is therefore public record. Anyone can request to see the will at that point.
Who Can Contest a Will?
Not just anyone can contest a will. Here is the best measure to determine your rights – find out if you would be considered one of the legal beneficiaries had there been no will. If yes, then you can probably find cause for contesting the will. Keep in mind, there are very specific laws about determining legal beneficiaries. For example, if the deceased’s spouse is still alive, then no one but the spouse (not even the children) would be considered as automatic beneficiaries. After the spouse, the children are next in line, followed by the deceased’s parents. If you had been named as a beneficiary in a previous will, but were cut out of the most recent will, you might have cause to contest the will. An estate lawyer would be able to answer specific questions about that (or any other) case.
Can I Keep My Will Out of Probate Court?
Yes and no. You won’t be able eschew probate entirely, but you can prevent many of your assets from becoming part of public record. If your goal is to maintain privacy over your finances, work with an estate lawyer to construct the right set of trusts so you can protect your assets. Trusts are separate legal entities with the right to own assets such as investments and trusts. You can also pass these assets to beneficiaries without using probate. While there will be some assets left in your will to distribute (like your primary home or operating cash), you can keep the public from knowing too much about your personal finances.