When a loved one dies, a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts may pass through the family members, which makes it a very challenging period. Not knowing whether or not the deceased has a will can make that time even more difficult. Why? Because a will is the only legal document that sets out how the deceased’s estate is to be distributed among the family members. So, how do you find out if your loved one has a will?
Ideally, the answer to the question “how to find out if someone has a will” would be to ask the individual in question. But evidently, there are many reasons why it may not be that simple. Perhaps the person in question is physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to hold the discussion, or maybe they suddenly died before you could have the conversation, or perhaps you come from a very reserved family that just doesn’t like to discuss certain issues.
As much as there could be so many reasons for this, it is always advisable to check if someone has a will before making any decisions about the estate. Below are several options you can use to find out if someone has a will.
1. Ask family or friends of the decedent
One of the easiest ways to find out if a will exists is to ask other family members or close friends to whom the decedent may have confided. Most of the time when a person executes a will, they are likely to give the original copy to a close family member or friend for safekeeping. They might also tell the same friend about the will, what it says, and where it is stored.
Moreover, the same close family member or friend may be the named executor in the will. An executor is a person put in charge of administering the estate or property of the deceased. The executor typically keeps the original will and knows where or how to find it.
2. Check with the deceased lawyer
Another way to find out if your loved one has a will is to contact the lawyer they worked with during their lifetime. It is very likely the attorney had a hand in the drafting and notarization of the will, which means they should know about it. Normally, when an attorney prepares a will or any other estate planning document, they give the original to the client and keep a copy in their office. The lawyer may not be able to reveal the contents of the will, but they should be able to tell you if one exists.
However, if you are the named executor, you are entitled to obtain the will from the attorney. You must provide proof of identification before you are handed the document.
3. Search the house
It may sound obvious, but most people hide important documents in their houses for safety reasons. Do not limit yourself to the decedent’s study or bedroom, or where you think they keep important papers. Wills have been found in the strangest places; behind furniture, in freezers, in the mystery box on the top shelf of the linen closet, in a hidden safe, and even in vehicles. The main point is to check everywhere and keep an eye out for the slightest clue.
4. Look in the safe deposit boxes
For most people in the US, the most secure place to store their private legal documents is a safe deposit box. Thus, it is a common place to find a will. However, it can be a challenging method because banks have regulations as to who gains access to another person’s possessions. If you are sure that your loved one has a safety deposit box in the bank, make sure you first obtain a court order from the probate court to gain access to the box. Unless you know that a safety box exists and where it is, it is almost impossible to get any information.
The bank will also not give any information to someone who does not own the account unless you are the court-appointed representative of the estate.
5. Find out is someone has a will by searching a ‘Will Registry’
Another way to find a will for your beloved is through a search of a national will registry. Most attorneys, will writers, and other professionals use The U.S. Will Registry to register their clients’ wills. Individuals can also register their own will on the registry for safekeeping. Registration (free to the public) documents the location of the original and duplicate copy of a will.
The registry does not retain any copies of the will, but rather, has a record of the location, where the will is kept, and the name of the attorney who drafted the will. It is possible that the testator wrote the will online, therefore an attorney would not be listed in the registration.
A Will Registry was developed in 1997 to avoid a situation where someone dies and no one is aware of where the will is. More importantly, is it possible a new version of a will may exist.
6. Visit the probate court
The attorney or the person who drafted the will may have filed the will in question with the Probate Court. If it was filed, you should be able to find it in the county where the deceased lived. You simply visit the state’s probate court website and fill in a few details. The details will include the full names of the deceased, date of death, and the state in which they died. After a person dies, the will is declared a public record. At that point, you will be able to review it, print copies, and then submit it to probate. However, you must first understand the rules and regulations governing access to the document.
How to find a will can be a very stressful and chaotic process, but this should not keep you down. You must exhaust all avenues before giving up. Don’t let the intestacy laws decide how the assets of your loved one will be distributed. This is because family members are frequently disoriented, and emotionally torn apart trying to predict what their loved one wanted.
The U.S. Will Registry is a system that exists to ensure no will is left untraced when needed. If you are wondering how to find out if someone has a will? Attorneys and the public use the U.S. Will Registry’s “Find a Will” search service to help locate missing wills.