How To Find A Will

When someone dies, there are so many things that need to be dealt with. These include financial and legal processes, but the emotions after the loss may make these tasks difficult. 

A will can make some of these decisions easier, as it should clearly state what the deceased wants to happen after their death. 

However, this all depends on finding the actual document. It’s important to locate the will soon after the death occurs, but if you can’t find it easily, the information below may help you in the process.

What Is A Will?

A person can write a last will and testament to detail what happens to the individual’s assets and personal property after death.

The will should include the name of a person to act as a personal representative or an executor, who will handle the process when needed. 

If someone dies without creating a will, every state will have rules as to who can be selected to manage their estate.

The state’s laws will be used as a provisional will to decide who will be eligible for the assets and the amount of the share they’ll receive.

It’s important to note that state intestacy laws can be very different from the deceased person’s last wishes.

After the person dies, most states will have a deadline to hand over the original signed will to probate court. It takes time to complete the probate process, so after the death occurs, it’s best to find the will and file it with the local probate court promptly.

Finding A Will

Preferably, the latest version of a will should be kept in a safe place that only the personal representative knows. Nevertheless, life can make this difficult.

Paperwork can get lost, and people can pass away before telling their family and friends what they want to happen to their belongings after death. 

Here are some places where wills are normally kept, as well as how to find out if a will was created in the first place. 

Look In The Person’s Home

This may be an obvious point, but the home can have several hiding places that aren’t visible at first glance. Some people can be bad at organizing their documents, while others like to tuck theirs away in the smallest of places. 

If you know that your loved one has created a will, or have a strong feeling that they would have made one, take your time and look everywhere. Check the filing cabinets, mysterious boxes, and even the refrigerator. 

When you check filing cabinets or rifle through papers, look out for any bills or letters of correspondence from law firms or attorneys. Your loved one may have left the location of their will with their legal representation. 

Check the Safe Deposit Box

A safety deposit box is a popular spot for keeping an original will. However, this can make it difficult to retrieve if the deceased individual is the only owner of the box.

Some banks have rules that allow someone to access the box temporarily, but only to remove a will while being supervised. However, some areas may need a court order before they can open the box. 

Ask Law Firms and Previous Attorneys 

In the past, law firms that made their client’s wills would give one copy to their client, and keep the original in a secure, fireproof safe. Today, several complications can occur.

Files have become bigger, firms have changed ownership, attorneys have retired, and clients may move to a different state without telling their law office. There are endless issues that can arise in the period after a will is drawn up.

Due to these issues, lawyers and firms deliver the original document to their clients to look after, keeping a copy of it in their client’s files.

So, if you can’t find a will in the deceased person’s house or safe deposit box, contact the office of any attorneys that the individual may have hired or worked with in the past.

You can try looking in the person’s files, financial records, and documents for clues as to who their legal representation might have been. If you live in a small town, you may have luck calling all law firms in the area to double-check.

Lawyers often send emails to other attorneys in the area to enquire if anyone has drawn up a will for the recently deceased person in question. 

Contact The County Courthouse

Your state may have a will filing system at the county courthouse, but this isn’t used often as people prefer to keep important paperwork close at hand. Nevertheless, if you are having a hard time finding a will, it might be an idea to check if a will was filed at the courthouse. 

Find out all of the counties that the deceased person lived in as an adult. Then, check with the probate courts in each area to see if they have the will in their files. Even if the person has lived in several different areas, they may have filed the will with a court years ago before they moved away. 

Are Copies Of A Will Valid?

If you still cannot find a will but have managed to find a copy of one instead, it may be possible to probate, but it will be difficult to do so.

The legal belief is that if an original will isn’t located, then it was destroyed and revoked by the one that signed it. In this case, any other copies are presumed to have been nullified or destroyed too. 

Other complications can occur if an old will or several versions of the will are located. You can work with a probate attorney and the court to decide which version is valid. This can be useful if the heirs are disagreeing over how the assets should be distributed.  

If You Cannot Find A Will

If you have followed the tips above and still cannot find a will, the deceased might not have made one. If this occurs, contact an attorney for legal advice. They should help you work out how to hand over the deceased person’s property while following the state’s intestacy laws. 

The Bottom Line

Trying to locate a missing will or attempting to find out if one was even made can be an arduous process. These potential situations are scary, but they can serve as a caution to make us better prepared. 

Make a clearly labelled file that contains your legal information inside it. You don’t need to store your will in here, but keep a letter of instruction in it.

This should be addressed to your executor and will include instructions that clearly state where to find your will. Taking these simple steps ensures that your loved ones don’t stress over trying to locate your will after your death.