Can you hold off on the reading of a will for five years?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
Hot momma asked...

My dad is paying my now decease grandmother debt on my mothers home. The will has not been read, can they hold the will for five years and my dad have to keep paying the debt of my grandmother. Do my mom and her brother and sister's pay my dad back the money that he's been paying out on their mother's debt.

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

The key is whether your grandmother left a will that named an executor in it"”that is, a person who is responsible for accounting for the property your grandmother owned at her death and then distributing it as the will directs. If so, that executor is responsible for doing the job "within a reasonable time" after the death occurred. While there is no set definition for what is "reasonable," a delay of five years is clearly unreasonable.

There is usually no legal requirement that a will must be read out loud"”only that it must be carried out as written.

Your dad, or some other relative likely to inherit under your grandmother's will, should write a simple and direct letter to the executor"”informing him or her that the legal duty is to act within a reasonable time"”and asking for a specific response within a short time: perhaps a week.

If the executor doesn't respond, then your dad"”or again, someone acting for him"”should contact the local probate court to see whether the will has been filed. Many probate courts also provide good information for consumers that are acting on their own, without lawyers. If the court doesn't have a good self-help center, and it isn't clear what steps to take in that court to remove the executor or demand an accounting, then your dad may need to hire a lawyer to help get the mess straightened out.

The law specifies that a person's final debts should be paid from the property he or she owned at death"”even if that property has to be sold off to do it. So unless he is a co-owner of the house, or has signed some other legal document making him responsible for the debt on it, he should not be paying for that. And legally speaking, your dad would likely be entitled to be reimbursed for any money he has paid out without the legal obligation to do so. But again, it might take hiring a lawyer to help advocate for the money.