How can I view my dead brother’s will if I’m not the executor?

Q&A: Dominic Coyle answers your personal finance questions

All wills eventually become publicly available in Ireland but not until probate has been granted. Photograph: iStock

All wills eventually become publicly available in Ireland but not until probate has been granted. Photograph: iStock

 

My brother died in December 2016 and another brother was his executor. To my knowledge, my executor brother was the sole heir. At what stage does the will become a public document that I can view online?
Mr J.C., email

Online? Never, to the best of my knowledge – at least in Ireland. But that’s not to say that you cannot get sight of the will.

All wills eventually become publicly available in Ireland but not until probate has been granted. In its simplest terms, a grant of probate is a legal process that confirms the will is valid and that the person administering the estate under the will – generally called the executor – has gathered details of all the assets and any debts owing, and has made a return to the Revenue Commissioners.

Until probate is formally sought and granted, an executor is not allowed to carry out the instructions contained in the will – i.e give out bequests and inheritances in line with the wishes of the person who has died.

Of course, for most people in a family situation, the easiest way to access the will of a relative is simply to ask the family member who has been made executor to just send you on a copy. Unfortunately, family relations mean that this is not always possible.

So how long might you have to wait for probate? Well, that’s not an exact science. It can depend on many factors, including the complexity of the estate. If your dead brother had previously travelled abroad or purchased assets in another jurisdiction, or if they were simply very poor at record keeping making it difficult to track down any savings or assets – or debts – it can take longer than you might expect.

People can get impatient with executors – especially when they choose to go it alone without hiring professional legal help – but, having been there myself, I can assure you an estate that can look easy to sort at first sight can throw up some unexpected curve balls along the way.

In any event, there is a concept called the “executor’s year” – a 12-month period from the date of death in which an executor cannot be challenged in court over their progress in administering an estate – or the lack of it. Beyond that, there can also be delays in the probate office in processing grants of probate due to workload and resources.

Having said that, you say that your brother died in December 2016. That’s now over three years ago and, barring unexpected complexities, you really would expect an estate to have received grant of probate in that time.

It is open to you, if you choose, to have your solicitor pursue the matter with your executor brother or his legal team. Ultimately, you could even go to court if you feel he is simply not carrying out his duties as executor in a proper or timely manner.

However, going to court is always an expensive option – both in financial terms and in terms of how it impacts on family relations. And, in any case, if your assumption is correct, your executor brother is the sole inheritor so you will not personally be losing out due to any delay.

Ultimately, you will still not be legally entitled to see the will until probate is eventually granted. At that stage, you, or anyone else for that matter, can apply to your local probate office – in person or via post for a copy of the will. It is likely to cost you a nominal sum – about €10.

Not that it affects you but older wills – those dating back more than 20 years – are held in the National Archives. While certain other countries offer online access to wills, the only way you are likely to get online access in Ireland, North or South, is by paying someone to do the work of tracking down the will for you, following probate, and scanning it in online to send to you.

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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