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How to find a will in public records

How to Find a Will in Public Records for Free

In the realm of legal and estate matters, locating a will can be a difficult task, often carrying emotional significance and legal implications. As you embark on the journey to discover whether a will exists within public records, you’re entering a realm where careful investigation and persistence play key roles. This guide aims to equip you with insights and strategies to navigate  finding a will within public records. You may be driven by the need to honor the wishes of a loved one or to ensure a seamless probate process. The following suggestions will shed light on the various avenues available to assist in unveiling this crucial document.

The Importance of a Will in Settling a Loved One’s Estate

A will is an essential document that provides instructions on how to distribute the assets of the deceased. It specifies who will inherit what property, who will be responsible for paying any outstanding debts, and who will manage the distribution of the estate.  Most importantly, who you choose to care for your minor or disabled children.  Without a will, the distribution of assets may be subject to family quarrels or state laws of intestacy.  Too often these avenues will not align with the wishes of the deceased. Therefore, it is crucial to locate the will to ensure that the deceased’s final wishes are fulfilled.

Trying to Find a Will in Public Records is Not Always Straightforward

Finding a will is not always straightforward. Sometimes, people forget to inform their loved ones about the existence of a will.  Many have misplaced or lost it over time. In other cases, the deceased may have created a will but not filed it with the probate court, making it difficult to locate. Additionally, the will may be outdated or incomplete, causing confusion and delays in the probate process.

Search Through Personal Records

One of the first places you should check is the deceased’s personal records. Search their bank statements, tax returns, and safe deposit boxes. Look for any documents that may indicate the presence of a will, such as correspondence with a lawyer or a will-making kit. If the deceased had a lawyer, you can also contact the lawyer and ask if they have any record of a will.

Some Useful Websites to Check Include:

Finding a will in public records for free typically involves searching through publicly accessible databases.  You will also need to check repositories where wills may be filed or recorded. Here’s a general guide on how to find a will in public records for free:

Identify the Jurisdiction:

Determine the jurisdiction where the decedent lived or owned property at the time of their death. Wills are usually filed in the probate court of the county where the individual resided.

Visit the Probate Court Website:

Many probate courts maintain online databases or portals where you can search for probate records, including wills. Visit the website of the probate court in the relevant jurisdiction.

Search Online Databases:

Some probate courts have a search functionality that allows you to search for a will by the decedents name.  You may be required to register or create an account to access their online databases, while others offer free public access to probate records.

Search The U.S Will Registry: Public Records:

Another option to consider is using online sites that offer access to public records. While not all wills are available publicly, some websites can provide information about wills that have been filed with the courts or registered with online registries.

One such site is The U.S. Will Registry, which aids in locating a will.  If the will you are seeking isn’t registered with the registry, your information will be stored.  If an attorney is seeking family members searching for a will they are in possession of, the registry will in turn provide the contact information of the searcher.

Visit the County Clerk’s Office:

If the probate court does not provide online access to probate records, you may need to visit the county clerk’s office in person. Request assistance from the clerk’s office staff to locate and access the probate records, including wills, for the decedent.

Check State Archives or Historical Societies:

In some cases, older wills may be archived or stored in state archives or historical societies. These institutions may offer online search tools or databases for accessing historical records, including wills.

Utilize Online Genealogy Websites:

Genealogy websites like FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com may contain digitized copies of historical wills and probate records. While some features on these websites require a subscription, they may offer free access to certain collections or records.

Consult Public Record Search Engines:

Public record search engines like CountyRecords.com or PublicRecordsDirectory.com may provide access to probate records, including wills, for free or for a nominal fee. These websites allow you to search by name and location to locate relevant records.

Contact the Executor or Administrator of the Estate

If the deceased appointed an executor or administrator of their estate, they may have a copy of the will. You can contact the executor or administrator and ask if they have any record of a will. They may also be able to provide you with more information about the probate process and what to expect.

Options for a Surviving Spouse when a Will Can’t be Found – Elective Share

Elective share, also known as spousal elective share or statutory share, refers to the legal right of a surviving spouse to claim a portion of their deceased spouse’s estate, regardless of what the deceased’s will specifies. This provision is designed to protect the surviving spouse from being disinherited. The specific rules governing elective share vary by jurisdiction but typically entitle the surviving spouse to a predetermined percentage of the deceased spouse’s estate, which may include assets like real estate, personal property, and financial accounts. Elective share laws aim to ensure that a surviving spouse is adequately provided for, even if they are not explicitly named in the deceased spouse’s will.

Consult with a Lawyer

If you have exhausted all other options and still cannot find a will, it may be time to consult with a lawyer. A lawyer can help you determine if a will exists and what steps you need to take to access it. They can also provide guidance on the probate process and represent you in court if necessary.

What Happens if a Will Can’t be Located?

Despite best efforts, individuals may fail to locate a last will in some cases. Consequently, when this occurs, the estate will distribute according to the laws of intestacy in the state where the deceased lived. These laws specify how the estate should divide among the deceased’s surviving family members, typically beginning with a spouse and children and extending to parents, siblings, and other relatives.

Moreover, it is crucial to note that the laws of intestacy may not reflect the deceased’s wishes. For instance, if the deceased desired to leave their assets to a close friend or charity but had no family members, the assets would not distribute according to their wishes if a will is not located. This highlights precisely why having a will is so essential.

Contesting Laws of Intestacy

If a will cannot be located, however, individuals may potentially contest the application of the laws of intestacy (without a will). This complex legal process typically necessitates the assistance of a probate lawyer. Furthermore, the person contesting the application of the laws of intestacy must actively provide evidence to support their claim. Specifically, they must prove that the deceased intended for their assets to be distributed in a different manner than what is outlined in the laws of intestacy, according to State Guidelines.

Conclusion

Finding out if a will exists is an important step in the probate process. While it may take some time and effort, there are several free ways to search for a will.  Examples include: checking personal records, contacting the probate court and searching online.  In addition, contacting the executor or administrator of the estate, and consulting with a lawyer is helpful as well.

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