Finding out if a will exist after a loved one’s passing can be an overwhelming task for grieving family and friends. Most people don’t think about this until pending obligations. These include the division of estates, repayment of debts, and other financial matters take priority. Instances like these make finding existing wills necessary.
Typically an executor (i.e., an attorney or loved one appointed by the deceased) initiates the probate process. They disclose how the deceased wanted to distribute assets in an estate. If a person fails to appoint an executor or does not have proper estate plans, the court supervises estate administration. It’s done according to the intestate succession law (aka inheritance law).
Without a will, the probate process can be tedious and complicated. Plus, there are times when the deceased might have hidden the will. Knowing this, you should search for an original will before considering the intestate succession law.
This article shares some practical ways for finding out if a will exists:
1. Search the Deceased’s House and Safety Deposit
Wills are never kept in plain sight. These documents can be difficult to find if the deceased hid them from prying eyes. That’s why you should not restrict yourself to home offices and bedrooms.
Instead, search every nook and cranny of the late loved one’s house to search.
These can include:
- Boxes under the bed or files under the mattress
- Inside the pantry, freezers or storage rooms
- Hidden in a secret drawer or compartment
- Wedged under the floorboard
- In an antique box shoved somewhere in the attic
- Old suitcases and storage spaces
The odds are that you might uncover these important documents in the unlikeliest places (and amidst everyday possessions). Hence, you should never lose hope and continue searching for the will.
What if it’s not inside the house?
Contact the decedent’s bank(s) to find out if the decedent kept a safe deposit. Your loved one might have kept the original document, duplicates, or information relevant to its location inside the safe deposit. Accessing it can eventually help you uncover their last wishes.
2. Get Close Family and Friends Involved
You might feel uncomfortable discussing the details of your loved ones’ final wishes soon after you lose them, but these conversations have to happen. There’s a chance that someone within the deceased’s intimate social circle already knows about the will.
Most of the time, people inform family members or close friends about the location of their will. Alternatively, they might hand over the original documents (or duplicates) to someone trustworthy for safekeeping.
Therefore, you can always count on friends and family for finding existing wills. That said, you might not always know the person they confided in due to your loved one’s reservations. Search contact books, diaries, and online connections to ensure you have covered the basics.
3. Search Online Registries
The U.S Will Registry simplifies the quest for finding existing wills. The company began its services in 1999 and built an extensive database consisting of millions of wills registered nationally and overseas. The oldest record in their system dates back to 1967.
In turn, it implies that, no matter how old the decedent was or when they registered a will, the virtual database can help them trace the original document.
How Does It Work?
The general public (or their attorneys) can register on the online platform. The registry secures information about:
- When the will was drafted
- Where the will is kept
- Who has the will
- Designated family members who can access the registry
Besides this, individuals interested in creating soft copies of the original documents can do so with a feature service called SideDrawer.com. They can save the document on their online database to ensure surviving loved ones can access the copy of the original documents that get misplaced. Online storage is what attorneys are now using to store copies of wills.
These details remain protected until the testator (i.e., owner of the will) passes away.
Finding Existing Wills with Online Directories
The official website has a “Missing Will Search” option that allows you to search for wills. Enter the decedent’s name, date of birth, and residential state to complete this task. The well-integrated search engine conducts a wide search of national and global databases to find a relevant will.
After finding a match, it asks you to share your relationship with the deceased. You need to submit a death certificate (or copy of public death notice) as proof too. If you are one of the registered members of the family, you can access more information. It includes the location of the will (or name of the person who has it or the attorney/law firm that drafted it). You can use this information to retrieve the original copy.
On the other hand, if there are no matches, the entered details get recorded into the “missing will database.” It notifies attorneys (and executors) that living descendants are interested in the estate distribution process. This, in turn, ensures that legal advisors get in touch with family and friends once their clients pass away.
4. Ask an Attorney
Sometimes finding existing wills might require a third party. If the house search, discussions with confidants, and online will registry doesn’t work, you can consult an attorney. If you’re sure that the attorney already knows about the will, you can approach them before you take any of the steps discussed above.
The deceased might consult legal advisors to draft the will or review the terms and conditions for compliance. An attorney might supervise the estate planning process if the deceased had multiple real estate properties, owned a business, or had many financial assets.
Alternatively, the decedent’s attorney might have the will or know where it’s located even if they only owned a property. Finding out what’s inside the will might not be easy since many legal advisors are instructed to conceal the beneficiaries’ exact details and names until a designated period.
However, they can confirm whether such a document does exist. The chosen executor can then file the will in the clerk of court to commence the probate procedure.
Note: Sometimes, people choose different attorneys for estate planning. This person will come forward as soon as they become aware of the decedent’s demise. Publishing obituaries and announcing the demise of a loved one can ensure that this happens as soon as possible.
5. Finding Existing Wills Through Public Records
A court clerk files wills after a person dies, not before since the terms and conditions frequently get altered during their lifetime. Sometimes an unknown executor might start the probate procedure without notifying you. In these instances, the original document might already be in the public record.
How to retrieve this information?
Firstly, list places the decedent resided in as the county’s probate court because the executor will submit the original documents. Next, you can either check the public records by visiting the relevant courthouse, contact a probate clerk for information or use the official court website for your search.
Online portals and probate clerks will ask the first and last name of the deceased with the date of birth to collect relevant details from the docket. This discloses the case number, representative names, and legal advisors involved in the probate if it’s in process. Alternatively, these resources will only tell you whether or not a will exists.
Do note that you may pay a copying fee to access the complete details of a registered will.
As a last resort, you can continue your online search by monitoring the clerk of court website. Use it to find out when the probate opens or filed when the records become public. You can ask the probate court to notify you when someone registers the will. Apply for state-compliant notice (i.e. caveat) to suspend legal proceedings on open probate unless you get notified.
Parting Words: Simple Solutions for Finding Existing Wills
Be tactful, seek help from loved ones, and learn how the legal system works for finding existing wills. The U.S Will Registry increases accessibility with its easy-to-use calculator. Use it to locate registered wills (and associated information) within minutes. If things don’t go as planned, you can always consult the clerk of court. Legal advisors can provide regular updates on the relevant court proceedings.
Visit our website to learn more about will registrations.