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Explore how to find out if a will exists.

How to Find Out If a Will Exists

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. 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 laws (aka inheritance law) in each state.

Without a will, (dying “intestate’), 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 hard to find out if the original will exists before considering the intestate succession law.

Practical Ways for Finding Out if a Will Exists:

1. Search the Deceased’s House 

People never keep wills 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
    • Desk files
    • Safes in the open and hidden (many times safes are hidden in closets)

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.

2. Look Outside the Home

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.

3. Ask Close Family and Friends

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.

Often friends and family have helped to find out if a will exists. Friends or family may know of an attorney that may have created a will. Search contacts in iPhone, and online connections to ensure you have covered the basics.

4. Find Out if a Will Exists in The U.S. Will Registry

The U.S. Will Registry has an official national website that contains a “Missing Will Search” option. This feature allows you to search for wills that have been written back to 1967. Information needed for a search is: Decedent’s Name, Date of Birth, and State of Residence.

How Does a Will Registry Work?

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

      • Where the original copy and duplicate copy of the will is kept (at home, attorney, family member, institution or online iCloud storage.
      • These details remain protected until the testator (owner of the will) passes away.
      • Only designated family members listed in the registration will have access the account.

5. Ask an Attorney

Sometimes trying to find if a will exist might require a third party. If the house search, discussions with confidants, and online will registry doesn’t work, you may want to consult a probate attorney.

6. Finding Existing Wills Through Public Records

After someone passes away, the process of obtaining a will from the clerk of the court typically follows a specific sequence.

Here is an outline of the process in general:

      • Notice of Death: In most cases, the death of someone is recorded through a death certificate issued by healthcare givers or public offices.
      • Establishment of Executor: Handling the estate will be left to the executor as provided for in the late person’s will. The court appoints an administrator where no will exists.
      • Will Filing: It is important that the executor files with probate court where they reside. This act sets off probate process and must be done within specified timelines which differ among jurisdictions but mostly 30 days from when someone died.
      • Probate Process: Determining whether or not there are any lawful requirements that were met after filing this will with probate court and its review have to be conducted. At this stage, validating a will takes place, confirming who has been chosen as an executor and overseeing management of all inherited assets under conditions stated in it and following state statutes applicable on them.
      • Public Record: To determine if the will meets all legal requirements, the probate court must review it after it is filed. During this stage, the court validates the will, confirms the chosen executor, and oversees the management of all inherited assets according to the will’s conditions and applicable state laws.

How to Retrieve This Information:.

Visit the Courthouse: Alternatively, you can visit for yourself or call a probate clerk through the phone or access public records via internet which are open to all on the official website of your local courthouse.

7. We Can’t Find a Will Anywhere! Now What?

When all efforts have been exhausted searching for the will but nothing has come up, then next moves become very critical especially noting how precious time during this period is.

Steps to Probate Without a Will:

a) Urgently Contact the Probate Court:

Approach probate court right away in the deceased’s residing county since there usually six months after death referred to as “probation.” Inquire about intestacy rules and directions on how one can initiate this process without having a testament.

b) Seek Legal Counsel Promptly:

It’s imperative to promptly consult with a probate or estate attorney who can provide tailored advice based on your circumstances. They can guide you through the legal requirements and procedures for handling the estate without a will within the limited time frame.

c) Notify Beneficiaries and Heirs Expediently:

Inform potential beneficiaries or heirs about their rights without wasting any more time. It may be necessary for them to provide some identification papers proving relationship before it becomes late within probation period.

d. Compile an Asset Inventory:

Quickly collect everything owned by deceased with debts including bank accounts, homes, stock market certificates, personal belongings and loans.

e) File for Letters of Administration to Probate Court

You can also promptly file a petition for Letters of Administration to the Probate court in case there is something that needs such an action. You may need to request that judges appoint administrators to look after estates without wills during this time-sensitive period.

f) Address Debts and Taxes:

Deal with all outstanding debts, taxes, or any other expenses connected with estates without delay throughout probating. Not addressing these issues quickly enough could lead to complications within a very short timeframe.

g) Adhere to Legal Requirements and Deadlines:

Throughout the probate process, meticulously comply with all legal requirements and deadlines. This includes filing necessary paperwork, providing timely notice to creditors, and distributing assets according to the law within the stipulated time frame.

h) Maintain Accurate Records:

Keep meticulous records of all transactions and communications related to the estate administration process. This will help ensure transparency and accountability, particularly given the time constraints involved.

**Given the time sensitivity of the probate period and the absence of a will, it’s crucial to quickly and carefully work with a lawyer to manage the estate.

What If The Probate Period Has Expired

Challenging a will after the probate period can be hard, but it’s not impossible. The probate period is when the court looks at the deceased person’s will to make sure it’s real and legal. This time can be different depending on where you are. Once this process is finished and the will is approved, it becomes official and you have to follow it.

However, there are some situations where you can still question a will even after this time:

1. Fraud or forgery: If you can prove that someone made a fake will or lied about it, you might be able to say it’s not real even after probate.

2. Undue influence: If someone pressured the deceased into making or changing the will, you can argue that it’s not fair.

3. Lack of understanding: If the person who made the will did not understand what they were doing, perhaps due to a mental problem, the will might not be valid.

4. New evidence: If there’s new information that wasn’t known during the probate process and it could change things, you might be able to question the will.

5. Mistakes or unclear wording: If there are mistakes or things that aren’t clear in the will and they weren’t fixed during probate, you might be able to challenge it.

Remember, disputing a will after probate can be complicated, and it’s different depending on where you are. You’ll probably need help from a lawyer who knows about these kinds of things. Also, there might be a time limit for challenging a will after probate, so it’s important to act quickly if you think there’s a problem.



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