Can I force brother to show me our mother’s will?

Q&A: Dominic Coyle answers your personal finance questions

Where there’s a will: an executor cannot be challenged for failure to move to settle the estate for the first 12 months after they have been appointed. This is called the executor’s year. Photograph: iStock

Where there’s a will: an executor cannot be challenged for failure to move to settle the estate for the first 12 months after they have been appointed. This is called the executor’s year. Photograph: iStock

 

My brother is the executor of my mother’s will. I am his sister. Am I entitled to see the will before probate?

Ms C.C., email

The simple answer is no. There is no automatic entitlement to see a person’s will until a grant of probate has been passed. At that point, it is a public document and it is open to anyone to apply to the Probate Office to see a copy.

That right is not limited to family or to people named in the will. Any member of the public, should they be curious enough, is entitled to see what a particular will says once probate has been granted.

However, that is taking things by the letter of the law. It is perfectly normal within families that the will of a deceased relative is available to those who want to see it.

In most cases, like this, where one sibling is executor but there are other siblings, a simple request to the executor is usually sufficient.

But, and this is the important point, you cannot force the issue. Until probate has been granted, only the executor – in this case, your brother – has the legal right of access to the will. And if there has been a family split, it is, of course, entirely possible if not necessarily advisable that the executor can decide they do not wish to grant access to the document.

Executors have a large amount of freedom in how they handle the probate process. That reflects what can be time-consuming procedures sometimes involved in tracking down the assets and any liabilities of the dead person. This is important as the executor is legally liable for doing so.

Executor’s year

For this reason, an executor cannot be challenged for failure to move to settle the estate for the first 12 months after they have been appointed. This is called the executor’s year.

If, however, nothing has been done in this time, you should certainly get your own solicitor to write to them with a view to forcing the issue. It won’t give you immediate access to the will if your brother, the executor, does not wish you to see it but it will force him to actively fulfil his duties so that any inheritance may be distributed in accordance with the wishes of your mother as stated in the will.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice

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