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How to Find a Last Will and Testament

Trying to find out if a will exists 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 like division of estates, repayment of debts, and other financial matters take priority.

Typically an executor (i.e., an attorney or loved one appointed by the deceased) initiates the probate process to 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 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 a will in place hidden somewhere in the house or kept in a safe deposit box. Knowing this, you should search for an original will before considering the intestate succession law.

How to Find a Last Will and Testament. The Search Begins!

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.

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 to find out if a will exists. 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 (like Facebook or Instagram) to ensure you have covered the basics.

Find Out If a Will Exists Using Online Registries

The U.S. Will Registry was established in 1997 to assure the public of a central database for Will Registration.

The general public (or their attorneys) can register on the online platform. The registry secures information about:

  • Where the will is kept
  • Who has the will
  • Designated family members who can access the registry

Besides this, individuals interested in creating soft duplicate copies of the original documents can do so with a feature service called SideDrawer. They can save the document there to ensure surviving loved ones can access the copy of the original documents that get misplaced.

These details remain protected until the testator (i.e., owner of the will) passes away.

The U.S. Will Registry Makes It Easy

The U.S Will Registry simplifies the quest for finding out if a will exists. The extensive database consists of wills registered nationally in the United States. The oldest record in their system dates back to 1967.

In turn, it implies that, no matter how old the decedent was or when the will was registered, the virtual database traces the original document. These details remain protected until the testator (i.e., owner of the will) passes away. Once a death certificate (and ID) is provided to the Registry, then a release of registration is granted.

The U.S Will Registry official website has aMissing Will Search” option. This search allows the public and attorneys to search for registered wills. A search requires the legal name of the deceased,  state of residency, and date of birth. The well-integrated search engine conducts a search of the national database to check for the relevant will.

After finding a match, the registry asks you to provide identification and a death certificate (or copy of public death notice) prior to releasing any information. If you are one of the listed registered members of the family, the registry will then release the information regarding 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, meaning your loved one, or their attorney did not register the will, then your contact information gets recorded into the “missing will database. Attorneys often check the database to see if any family members of their clients are trying to find a Last Will they may have drafted. Attorneys will then contact the registry for the family members contact information.

Ask an Attorney

Sometimes finding out if a will exists requires 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.

People often consult legal advisors to either draft the will or review the terms and conditions for compliance. An attorney might have supervised 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. 

Tracking Public Records

After a person dies, the county court clerk (where the deceased resided) requires the filing of wills. The terms and conditions frequently get altered during their lifetime, which is why they are not required to be filed before. 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.

Unfortunately most families do not file the Last Will with the County since filing with the probate court cost money and typically  holds up the distribution of an estate.

If a disgruntled family member finds out the will excludes them, then they will most likely make the will disappear and the family and/or probate court will never see it. If they don’t find a will, a probate judge will declare any natural descendants as heirs to the estate.

How to Retrieve This Information?

Firstly, list places the decedent resided in as the county’s probate court because that’s where 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. If the probate is in process, it discloses the case number, names of representatives, and legal advisors involved. Alternatively, these resources will only tell you whether or not a will exists.

Please note that they may require a copying fee for you to obtain the complete details of a registered will.

As a last resort, you can continue your online search by monitoring the clerk of court website. That way, you can see if someone opens the probate or files the will as soon as the public records become public. You can even ask the probate court to notify you when someone registers the will by applying for state-compliant notice (like a caveat) to suspend legal proceedings on open probate unless you get notified.

Parting Words

Lastly, finding out if a will exists requires tact, patience, little help from loved ones. Sometimes a little know-how of how the legal system works helps tremendously.

The U.S Will Registry makes the process more accessible by helping you locate registered wills with a few clicks. The U.S. Will Registry was created to make certain no will goes missing when needed. Registration is free and give you and your family true peace of mind.

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