When someone you love passes away, you’ll need to know whether or not they had a Will. There are several reasons why having access to the Will is important. First, the Will must be submitted to the local Court along with a petition to initiate probate. Second, you’ll want to reference the Will to find out what property was left to which beneficiaries. Accomplishing these important tasks can be difficult if you have any trouble tracking down the Will. This guide provides tips on how to find a Will so you know just where to look. We also provide some best practices on how to notify loved ones when it comes to the location of your own Will.
How to Find a Will - Guide to Locating a Loved One’s Will
Knowing how to locate a Will has everything to do with knowing what actions the creator of that Will would have taken. Typically, people either create a Will themselves, or write a Will with the help of an estate planning attorney.
When creating their own Will, they may have written it by hand or used an online service such as the one provided by Trust & Will. Such a Will is typically kept in a secure space at home, such as in a locked safe. This is the first place to check. If you don’t find the Will here, or the person didn’t keep a safe, check other locations where they may have kept important documents. Ideas include their desk, drawer, or file cabinet.
Before calling for help, you may also want to go through their home and belongings. Secret hiding places may surprise you!
When all else fails and you can’t find it in the decedent's home, here are some actionable steps to take to try and locate the Will:
Ask family and friends
Ask their attorney
Search a Will registry
Look in a bank or safety deposit box
Contact the probate court
Ask family and friends
If you’re unable to locate the Will on your own, try asking the deceased person’s close family and friends. When someone executes their Will, it’s not uncommon that they share this information with someone they trust. In case anything were to happen, they may have even shared the location of the Will. A great place to draw contact information is from the decedent’s address book and emails.
Contact as many friends and family as possible to find out if a Will was in place, and whether the decedent worked with an attorney.
Ask their attorney
Your mission will be very easy if your loved one was working with an attorney before their passing. It’s likely that they were setting up their estate, and thus their Will, with this attorney, who should at least have a valid copy of the Will on file.
To find the attorney’s contact information, look for any legal letterhead, pieces of mail from their office, business cards, invoices or any meetings that were scheduled on a calendar. Even if an attorney you find and contact did not write the Will, they may be able to refer you to the attorney who did.
Search a will registry
An alternative place to check is a Will registry. A Will registry is a service that stores data regarding the location of the Will, and the name of an attorney who wrote the Will, if applicable. They do not retain copies of Wills, but rather information on them.
When a person writes a Will and is thinking proactively, they may choose to register their Will with one of these registries. This is such that if they were to pass away, their loved ones will be able to find out that the Will exists and where it has been stored.
Look in a bank or safety deposit box
Don’t forget to check secure storage options outside of the home. Common choices include at the bank or in a safety deposit box. A Testator (the person who created their Will) may choose this option to safeguard their Will from certain risks. For instance, a fire could burn down their home and everything in it. In another example, perhaps they want absolute confidentiality surrounding the content of their Will and want to make sure it is only revealed after their death. Find out where the decedent banked and the procedures for accessing someone’s safe deposit box.
Contact probate court
Last but not least, contact your local Probate Court. If you were not the nominated Executor of the Will, it is possible that the Executor or someone else already filed your loved one’s Will with the court. This is public information, and you will be able to access it.
There are also some Courts that allow individuals to deposit their own Will before death. These options vary. Some courts allow the individual to deposit a copy of the Will, or just submit information regarding the Will’s existence and its location. Many courts do not offer these services at all. It is always worth checking.
How to Notify Loved Ones of Your Will’s Location
Now that you have an idea of what it takes to locate a loved one’s Will, you may have noticed that it can be quite the goose chase in the absence of proper planning.
If you have written your Will, or are in the process of writing one, be sure to also think about how your Will should be discovered after your passing. This will spare your loved ones from having difficulty.
The first method is to have transparent conversation with your close, trusted family members regarding your Will. It’s good practice to discuss estate planning with your family regardless. This will help get them comfortable with the idea, and it won’t come as a shock to them if anything were to happen. Be sure to let them know that you have written a Will, where it is stored, and how to access this storage location if you were to pass away. Of all people, it is especially vital to communicate this information to the individual you’ve nominated as your Executor.
The next logical step is to register your Will with a Will registry. For instance, the U.S. Will Registry is a free resource provided by a non-profit. It allows Testators to register the locations of their Wills, and allows others to search the registry if a Will is missing. You can also find out if your local Court will allow you to deposit your Will or register information regarding your Will. When available, this service is typically provided by your local Records office or equivalent.
If you have an attorney that you work closely with, it makes sense to also share the location of the Will with them, even if they did not necessarily help you write the Will. In the event of your passing, your family members may go directly to your attorney since estate planning is a legal manner.
Create & Register Your Will Today
If you have been wondering how to find a Will, we hope that you have some ideas on how to get started. If you’ve been having some trouble locating the Will of a loved one, it may help by putting yourself in their shoes. Typically, a person who took care to write a Will will want to place it in a secure location for safekeeping. Unless you’ve already turned over every stone in the house, it may be worth looking again. This is especially true if they had a unique personality. Who knows - maybe you’ll find the Will in a plastic bag in the freezer or under the bed! There may also be safe locations that didn’t occur to you, such a safety deposit box at the bank or at their attorney’s office. Last but not least, don’t forget to check Will registries and with your local probate court. We wish you the best of luck on your hunt.
This guide has hopefully inspired you to think about your own Will, and how you intend to store said Will and make sure it’s discoverable. Should you desire any help creating a Will, know that Trust & Will is here for you! We provide an online platform that makes it easy and affordable for you to create your Will online, and from the comfort of your own home! Once you’ve created your Will, make sure to store it in a safe place. Be sure to communicate the location of your Will to trusted loved ones, and we highly recommend registering your Will to make sure that someone will be able to locate it if all else were to fail.
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Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.