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This paper deals with the position in England and Wales.


In this briefing paper:

  • “testator” means the person who has written a will;
  • “personal representatives” means the people who administer the estate of the deceased; and
  • “beneficiary” means a person who receives property under the will.

Before probate is granted

In general, a will is a private document unless and until a grant of probate is issued.

While the testator is still alive, with limited exceptions, nobody other than the testator is entitled to receive a copy of the will.

The will remains a private document following the testator’s death until probate is granted.

In some cases, however, it is not necessary to apply for a grant – for example if the estate is very small. In these circumstances, the personal representatives may choose to send a copy of the will to the main beneficiaries.

After probate is granted

Once a grant of probate has been issued, a will becomes a public document and anyone can apply to have a copy.

The Gov.UK website provides information about searching for probate records, either online or by post.

Documents to download

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