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Reading the Will – An Urban Myth?

There is an amusing Direct TV commercial which takes place in an attorney’s office that highlights a practice that doesn’t exist any longer in New Jersey (if it ever did) and, to my knowledge, isn’t practiced in most other states.  The attorney is conducting what is known as “the reading of the will” in the presence of the heirs.

 In the commercial, present are an elderly woman we presume to be the widow, the very attractive young blonde “soul mate” and the son.  The attorney recites the clause in which the jet, private island, and family business are left to the soul mate, to the disgust of the widow.  Finally, the Direct TV collection of movies is left to the son, who proceeds to carry on in celebration.  Funny, but is there any truth to any of it?

 No, not really.  While I can’t say I have had any client take that much interest in passing on an inheritance that includes their TV service, reading a will aloud isn’t a requirement and I’m not sure, outside of Hollywood, it ever really was required by law. 

But what about the idea that the widow gets nothing, or at least that’s the inference that the commercial leaves us with.  Of course, we don’t know what else the Direct TV subscriber’s will says, but most, if not all states, have a law to protect the “kept in the dark” spouse.  The law is known as the elective share.  It says that the surviving spouse is entitled to a minimum amount of the estate even if her spouse’s will cuts her out entirely, unless she knowingly waives that right.  So the poor “Direct TV” widow, if she lived in New Jersey, for example, could be entitled to as much as 1/3 of her husband’s estate, regardless what the will says.

 In that case, the son might not be celebrating quite as much if he only receives 4000 movies, the other 2000 being left to the widow.  It doesn’t make for as amusing a commerical, although I’d hate to think about how messy it could be deciding who gets what movies.  Sounds like that family may be headed for a court battle.