The death of a loved one is an incredibly emotional and stressful time. Not only will you be trying to process the loss, but there are decisions that need to be made. There are also details that need to be taken care of in a short period of time. Once the funeral arrangements are made, there are many financial and legal tasks that need to be taken care of in order to settle the deceased person’s estate. This will often leave relatives wondering who will handle the estate, who gets the final say when important decisions are made, and how the deceased’s assets will be divided. Ideally, an individual will create a will before their death that names an executor to handle their estate. But what are the signs that can help you in finding out if a will exists?
Finding Out if a Will Exists
Oftentimes, people will let their families know who their executor will be and where they plan on keeping their will. This will make their will easily accessible upon their death. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In fact, family members may not know where their loved one’s will is, or if they even created a will at all.
In such cases, it is important that family members initiate a will search. This is the first step in the probate process. It is important that all options for trying to find a loved one’s will are exhausted. This will help you ensure that families follow their wishes if they left a will behind. The will search can also help definitively determine if someone died intestate (without a will). If an individual dies intestate, this often results in a long, drawn-out probate process. The court will have to assign an executor and divide the deceased person’s assets in accordance with state intestacy laws.
This makes it crucial that you do everything you can to see if your loved one left behind a will, as a will can make the process of settling their estate much easier. Yet, if you don’t know where your loved one kept their will, or if they even created a will at all, how do you know where to look for one? If you need help in finding out if a will exists, there are steps that can help you locate it.
Keep reading for a look at steps that you can take to find a deceased person’s will.
Check the Deceased Person’s Home
The first place to start when searching for a deceased person’s will is their house. You should start with the obvious places someone may place important documents like a desk or filing cabinet. However, you need to be thorough in your search. Sometimes, in an effort to keep their will safe, an individual may hide their will in an unconventional place. This may take time, as you may have to search every nook and cranny of their home. Make sure that you search through all of your loved one’s drawers, shelves, cupboards, and closets. You may even want to consider checking unusual places people may hide important documents such as shoe boxes, books, and in picture frames. In fact, people have found wills in freezers, under mattresses, and in glove boxes!
It is important that you exhaust every possible option when searching for your loved one’s will. You should also search to see if they had a personal safe in their home, as this is another common place to hide an important document like a will.
Contact Their Current and Past Attorneys
If you can’t find a copy of a will in your loved one’s house, try contacting any attorneys that they have worked with in the past. If you do not know who they worked with, try searching their house to see if you can find a business card or legal documents pointing to any local law firms. It is also likely that they worked with an estate planning attorney to help them create it.
Oftentimes, when attorneys help people create a will, they will give them a copy and keep the original for safekeeping. If you are able to track it down, you may be able to find a copy of their will.
If the deceased’s attorney did not help them draft a will, this does not mean that a will doesn’t exist. In fact, there are many programs online that help people create their own wills from home. So you may not be out of luck just yet.
Check With the Probate Court
Depending on the state where the deceased lived, their state may provide a method for filing a will at the county courthouse while they are still alive, ensuring that their will is on file when they die. You should then try contacting the probate courts in each county where the deceased lived throughout their adult life to ask if your loved one had a will on file.
However, you may need to do some digging into your loved one’s life to find out all of the places that they have lived. It is also possible that they filed their will many years ago and haven’t updated it since.
Contact the Deceased Person’s Financial Institutions
When finding out if a will exists, you could also contact financial institutions to find out if your loved one had a safe deposit box. Many people rent a safe deposit box from banks so that they have somewhere to store their most important valuables. However, many people also use their safe deposit box to safeguard important documents such as social security cards, property titles, marriage licenses, and even wills. Keeping the original copy of a will in a safe deposit box ensures the protection of the document.
Unfortunately, if you discover that your loved one had a safe deposit box, accessing it may not be a simple feat if the deceased is the sole owner listed on the safe deposit box, as the safe deposit box will be sealed upon the owner’s death.
Bank regulations also vary by state. In fact, some states allow temporary access to a deceased person’s safe deposit box for the sole purpose of removing a will (under the supervision of a bank employee). However, some states will require you to have a court order to access your loved one’s safe deposit box. While this may be a hassle, it is worth the effort as there is a good chance they left a will in their box.
Research and Identify Reputable Online Will Registries
Search online for reputable will registries. There are online services, such as The U.S. Will Registry, which allow people to register their wills online. This way, their loved ones can easily find them after their death. You can check these registries to see if the person who passed away has registered their will. If they have, follow the registry’s process for requesting a copy of the will. Our National Will Registry allows people to register their wills and other estate planning documents online. This can be a helpful resource for locating a loved one’s missing will.
Check With Family and Friends
You should also ask close family and friends if they know whether your loved one created a will and where they may have put it. Those who were close to the deceased can be invaluable in finding out if a will exists. They may also have served as witnesses to the signing of the will and know its location. Moreover, the deceased may have asked them to hold onto the will for safekeeping.
Furthermore, if the deceased named an executor in their will, they may have left the will with their executor. This way, they would have easy access to it after their death. It is then important that you ask around if you are having trouble locating a loved one’s will.
Consider Hiring a Professional to Help
If none of your efforts turn up a will, this does not necessarily mean that no will exists. It’s just possible that you haven’t thought of every location they could have hidden their will. As a last resort, you may want to consider hiring a professional such as a private investigator or an estate attorney to help you in finding out if a will exists. Someone with experience looking for missing items and/or who knows where hidden wills may be registered/located may have a better chance of finding the will than you would have had on your own.
When a loved one dies, a will can greatly simplify the process of handling the estate and distributing assets. However, unless they confided in someone the location of the will, you may have a hard time finding out if a will exists.
Are you unsure whether your loved one had a will? A good place to start would be the National Will Registry. Your loved one may have chosen this to register their will to make it easy to find.
Feel free to contact us for help locating a registered will after a loved one’s death.