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Where to Start to Find A Will

Unraveling the mystery of how to find a will causes tremendous turmoil within a family and present additional challenges during the probate process. In this blog, we will delve into a myriad of options available to navigate the complex terrain of finding a lost will. Furthermore, the inability to locate such a crucial document can exacerbate probate issues, emphasizing the need for a systematic approach. Join us as we explore several recommendations on where and how to initiate the search for a missing last will and testament. Ultimately, we aim to offer guidance for families grappling with this challenging aspect of estate matters.

First Step to Find a Will: Gather Information

Collect as much information as possible about the individual whose will you are searching for, including their full legal name, date of birth, and date of death. Also, try to gather information about any family members or heirs of the deceased.

Typical Places People Store Their Wills

  • Safe Deposit Box: Often kept in a bank for security.
  • Home Safe: A secure option within the residence.
  • Filing Cabinet: In a designated file among important documents.
  • Attorney’s Office: Housed with the individual’s legal representative.
  • Digital Storage: Stored electronically, either on a computer or in the cloud.
  • Family Lawyer: Kept by the individual’s legal counsel.
  • Executor: Handed over to the appointed executor of the will.
  • Home Office: Placed among personal or business documents.
  • With a Trusted Relative: Shared with a close family member.
  • Copies to Beneficiaries: Duplicates provided to intended heirs.

Unusual Places Where People Store Their Wills

People have been known to store their wills in unconventional or unexpected places. Some peculiar examples include:

  1. Freezer: Some individuals have placed their wills in sealed containers within the freezer, possibly as a way to protect documents from fire or other environmental threats.
  2. Garden or Yard: In rare cases, people have buried their wills in their gardens or yards, perhaps as a symbolic or secretive gesture.
  3. Bookshelves: Wills have been discovered sandwiched between books on bookshelves, camouflaged among the regular reading material.
  4. Cookie Jar: A few creative individuals have opted to hide their wills in a cookie jar, blending important legal documents with everyday household items.
  5. Under Furniture: Wills have been found taped or tucked under furniture, such as tables or couches, adding an element of hidden security.
  6. Behind a Photo Mounted on a Wall: Some unique locations have been known to hide a will behind a piece of art or photograph. This creative approach adds an element of personal touch and hidden security to the storage of crucial documents.

It’s important to note that while these examples may seem quirky, it is highly recommended to keep wills in more standard and secure locations to ensure easy access and legal validity when needed.

The U.S. Will Registry

The U.S. Will Registry actively maintains this secure database, established in 1996. Furthermore, will registration enables individuals to register the location of their wills for safekeeping and easy retrieval by their loved ones after they pass away.

Failure to locate a will can lead to significant tension and discord among family members. Additionally, registration is provided free of charge to the public and attorneys, ensuring universal access.

How to Find a Copy of a Will in The Registry

To find a copy of a will in the U.S. Will Registry, follow these steps:

  1. To Access the Registry Website: Start by visiting the official website of The U.S. Will Registry.
  2. Explore Search Options: Once logged in, navigate to the search or find a will section.
  3. Enter the Necessary Details: Input the required information for the search, typically including the legal name of deceased, date of birth, and other relevant details about the person you are searching for.
  4. Submit Your Search Request: After entering the necessary information, submit the search request.
  5. Review the Results: The U.S. Will Registry will generate results based on the provided information. Carefully review the results.
  6. Access the Will Copy: If a match is found, the registry may provide options to access a copy of the will or contact information for authorized individuals who can provide access.

I’ve Exhausted All Avenues, Now What?

Intestacy Laws and Estate Distribution

In the absence of a will, intestacy laws come into play, and asset distribution depends on the familial relationships of the deceased. The laws prioritize close relatives, typically starting with the surviving spouse. If there’s no surviving spouse, the inheritance typically extends to the children.

Jurisdictional Variations in Intestacy Laws

However, the specifics can vary by jurisdiction. In some cases, if there is no surviving spouse or children, the inheritance may pass to parents, siblings, or other close relatives. The laws aim to distribute assets in a way that reflects familial ties.

Probate Process and Executor Assignment

When probate is required, the court assigns an executor. This executor manages the estate, settling debts, taxes, and distributing assets in line with intestacy laws.

Alternatives to Probate: Trusts and Estate Planning

In some instances, a trust or estate planning instrument may control asset distribution outside probate, even without a will.

Hire a Professional

There are professional services that specialize in locating lost last wills and testaments. These services are typically offered by private investigators or companies that specialize in estate planning or probate law. Here are some examples of professional services that can help you locate a lost will:

  1. Probate Researchers – These are professionals who specialize in locating missing heirs and beneficiaries, but they can also assist with finding lost wills. They have access to a variety of resources.  Some resources include public records and databases to help track down wills that may be difficult to find.
  2. Estate Planning Attorneys – Attorneys who specialize in estate planning may also offer services to help locate missing wills. They have expertise in probate law and may have experience with situations where a will is lost or missing.
  3. Private Investigators – Private investigators may also offer services to locate lost wills. They use a variety of techniques, such as searching public records, conducting interviews, and performing surveillance to locate the will.
  4. Will and Trust Registries – There are also private companies that offer will and trust registry services. These companies provide a secure database where individuals can store information about the location of their will or trust. If the will becomes lost or goes missing, the registry can assist in locating it.

The Probate Period: When does it start and end?

The probate period settles a deceased person’s estate, including debt payment and asset distribution. The duration varies by jurisdiction and estate complexity. To determine when it ends, consult a local attorney familiar with probate laws in the district where the deceased person resided.

In general, the court overseeing the probate process concludes by issuing a final order that closes the estate. Subsequently, this happens after all debts, taxes, and obligations are paid. Once completed, the remaining assets begin distribution to beneficiaries.

If you’re searching for a will, it’s crucial to find it before the probate period ends, as it initiates the process. Furthermore, discovering it afterward may complicate court recognition. Therefore, act promptly to locate a suspected will and commence the probate process before the deadline.

In Conclusion:

It is important to find a will before the probate period ends. Conducting a will search may take time and persistence. It is important to be thorough and patient in your search efforts and consider all possible locations where the will may be found.

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