By: Joan Reed Wilson, Esq.
I consider myself an intelligent person with a good education, but I do not spend my days working in a hospital. So admittedly, what I “know” about hospitals, I learned by watching ER and Grey’s Anatomy. I’m sure my friends who do work in hospitals will tell me most of what we see on those shows is far from the truth. In the same vain, it is not surprising that people who do not practice probate law believe what they have seen on television or movies.
For example, have you heard of the “READING OF THE WILL”? Of course you have, because it has been a scene in many TV shows and movies. After someone dies, the lawyer hosts a meeting in his (usually “his” because, well, you know, but that’s a topic for another time…) office. Everyone who had a relationship with the decedent is in attendance, even the mistress and the degenerate nephew. Does this happen in real life? NO!!!! At least not in Connecticut.
What actually happens is someone close to the decedent finds the Will and reads it alone. Maybe he or she shows it to other family members; maybe not. The person who is named as the proposed executor in the Will then schedules an appointment with a probate attorney to begin the process. That attorney will ask for information about the decedent’s assets because sometimes a full probate and appointment of the executor is not necessary. If it is necessary, the lawyer will prepare a Petition for the proposed executor to sign and then the lawyer will file the paperwork, along with the original Will, with the appropriate Probate Court. In Connecticut, the attorney is also obligated to send the Petition and a copy of the Will to all beneficiaries named in the Will and all heirs of the decedent, even if they are not named in the Will. The determination of who is an “heir” depends on the decedent’s family relations. A spouse and children are heirs. If the decedent was not married and had no children, then parents, and then siblings step into the role of the decedent’s heirs. These parties are called “interested parties”. This is when all interested parties receive a copy of the Will, if they had not already…in their mailbox, to be read in the privacy of their own home. I guess that’s just too anticlimactic for Hollywood.
So keep enjoying your TV shows and movies, but please do not be offended or suspicious if you do not receive an invitation to the lawyer’s office for the reading of the Will after a loved one dies.
P.S. You may have picked up on my use of the term “proposed executor” above. Stay tuned for another FALSE FACTS FRIDAY regarding this…coming soon on a Friday near you.