Never. The reading of the Will is a Hollywood fiction and a dramatic plot twist in many novels.
However, today there is no gathering of the family in the lawyer’s oak filled and dusty library to discuss the final wishes of the family’s loved one. There is no morbid meeting of the decedent speaking to us from beyond the grave.
There is only the hard truth that the person we loved is now gone, and if he conducted the proper estate planning, left us with a written Will or Trust to let us know how he intended his assets to get passed down.
It is possible that the concept of the reading of the Will derives from certain points in our history where there was widespread illiteracy which could have contributed to some communities finding the need to read the Will. Also, many centuries ago it was much harder to copy documents like a Will, so it is possible that a Will was read to a group of people just because it was easier to spread the message that way.
While a reading of the will is not necessary in today’s society, there is still some benefit to discussing the contents of a Will before a person dies. In our office, we provide a family meeting where families can get together after a Will is prepared to discuss what it might look like when the person passes away. That way everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises when the person is gone.
So when you hear about a reading of the Will in a movie or a book, soak in the dramatic plot, but be mindful that it is not reality.