What happens at the Reading of the Will?  It is one of the most common questions clients ask.  Even some attorneys who practice in other areas of the law have asked us what happens.  Here’s the dirt:

Imagine a large family has just come from the decedent’s funeral and everyone is dressed to the nines.  Family, friends, and business associates gather at a long reading table in the library next to the fireplace.  People exchange wicked glances and engage in hushed conversations.  Once everyone is settled, the lawyer stands up and begins reading.  “I, the decedent, do hereby make this my last will and…”  And then the director yells, “Cut!  The boom microphone is visible.  Everyone get back to your marks.”

The Reading of the Will is a Hollywood invention.  Screenwriters know it can be a memorable device for moving a plot forward but in real life it would serve no purpose. The closest thing in real life would be probate proceedings but it is uncommon for any part of a will or trust to be read aloud in court.  It is equally uncommon for legatees or beneficiaries to be present for most probate proceedings.  In this case, real life is simply less riveting than fiction.

Although some may be disappointed to see a treasured filmmaking convention revealed, perhaps it will ease the pain to learn that the lawyers at Schmidt & Lerner, LLC share some of the disappointment.  From conversations with other estate planning attorneys we know we are not alone.  Once — just one time we would love to be able to say we did a reading of the will.  Perhaps some day we will be asked to read the unusual will of an eccentric film buff who had a marvellous sense of humor and specifically demanded a reading in his or her will.  Should that day never arrive, at least we once had occasion to enter a taxi and earnestly say, “Driver, follow that car.”