After a loved one dies, coping with grief is not the only hard part of handling a loss. Those left behind can have bills to settle, paperwork to sort, and an estate to probate. Of course, you’ll need to locate a will to probate the estate.
People often pour thousands of dollars and dozens of hours into crafting meticulous estate plans. Those plans are useless if they can’t be located after a person’s death. And there are almost no regulations regarding who keeps the original copy of a will once it has been executed.
Too often, the family knows a will exists, but can’t find the will. We will discuss options on how to find a will of a deceased person online as well as other methods.
Before Searching Online for Missing Will
How can you find your loved one’s will after their death? In a best-case scenario, your family has had open conversations about where to find important documents prior to a death in the family. Typically, this includes discussing how to find a copy of a will, as well as identifying where key contacts and financial records are. If your family hasn’t had a chance to discuss who keeps the original copy of a will, you can still undertake some key strategies to find one in the event of a sudden death.
Try searching the deceased person’s house. Check every potential hiding place, including bedrooms, bathrooms, and under rugs and floorboards. Contact lawyers and accountants the deceased may have used during their lifetime and see if the will was left with them for safekeeping. Don’t forget to call the deceased’s bank and inquire about any safety deposit boxes where the will may have been stored.
How to Find a Will of a Deceased Person Online – Option 1
Since 1996, The U.S. Will Registry was established to assist the public and attorneys in locating wills.
The deceased (or their attorney) may have had the foresight to register their will online. Registration of a will is offered free to the public and attorney in order to encourage registrations with no obstacles.
In the event a search for missing will is performed, and the registration is not found in the registry, the searchers information will transfer to a Missing Will database. Only attorneys have access to find out if a family member is searching for a missing will of one of their clients. If an attorney is holding a will that a family member is searching for, the attorney is able to obtain the family members contact information through the Registry.
A will registry is the easiest way for family members to find a copy of a will of a deceased person online. The registry does not contain a full electronic copy of the will itself. It does contain information about where to find the original or duplicate copy of a will. Once you’ve tracked down the original or duplicate copy of a will, you’ll be able to probate the estate.
How to Find a Will of a Deceased Person Online – Option 2
It is possible for a Last Will to be filed in the Probate Court in the County where the deceased resided or owned real estate.
When a person files their will with the
, it’s not a public record until they pass away. Remember, wills are private documents. At the decedent’s death, the court opens the will and updates the file stating the will is open, and the will becomes public record. By going online to the probate court’s website and searching the court’s docket, you can find relevant information about the decedent’s file. A file will state when the will was filed and probated, if applicable. The court’s online portal typically asks for the decedent’s first and last name and date of birth. To see the file in full usually requires an in-person visit to the probate court.
In the event that one is physically unable to appear in court, they may request a copy of the will by fax or mail.
Probate Courts generally require a death certificate in order to probate a will. A death certificate confirms that the Testator is deceased, and that the court has jurisdiction over the matter. The death certificate is one of the most important documents in an estate probate proceeding. Without a death certificate, there will be significant roadblocks to probating the Will.
Do I Need the Original Will to Submit It for Probate?
It’s always best to produce an original will for probate. Typically, when an original will cannot be produced, the court will presume that the deceased intentionally destroyed it. When that happens, the court treats the person’s property as though they died without a will. That means the court will divide the property based on state law, typically giving the property to their closest relatives.
However, it is possible to prove the contents of a will using a copy. Each state has its own rules for this. You may want to reach out to a probate attorney in your state to better understand your options. The probate court may require an explanation for why the original will can’t be found. This becomes complicated if someone contests the will’s validity.
The probate process will go much more smoothly if you can produce the original will. Many original wills include a self-proving affidavit. This is a notarized document that can help speed up the probate process by proving that the will is valid.
Requirement to File a Will
If you are aware that someone has died with a will, most states will require that you file that will with the probate court. Filing a will isn’t the same as filing probate documents (which include a Petition for Probate). Filing a will means just that—filing the will.
If you knowingly fail to file an existing will, you could be held liable in both criminal court and civil court. Not filing a will could result in damages to any party who would have benefited from the estate. Potential beneficiaries and creditors have a right to be made aware if they have an interest in the estate.