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How to Locate a Missing Will

It is essential to locate a missing will to ensure the assets belonging to a loved one are distributed as per their wishes. Additionally, this makes the probate process easier and prevents family from fighting among themselves.

With a will in place, the probate court can make sure their assets get distributed fairly according to what the deceased person’s intentions were.  Unfortunately, there have been too many situations where family members knew a will existed but they now fear it can’t be found.

5 Reasons Which May Cause A Will To Be Missing

Disorganization: The important documents were not arranged neatly or in order.

Unplaced or lost: Over time people may misplace or lose their own wills. This is especially true of persons who frequently moved during his/her lifetime or had cluttered houses. Especially due to seniors moving late in life to assisted living and nursing homes.  It is difficult for the elderly to keep tract of items moved or rearranged.

Maliciously destroyed: A family member can maliciously destroy a will for different reasons, such as seeking financial gain, disapproving of its content, having an emotional reaction to its contents, wanting to exert control, or hiding sensitive information. Generally, this act is illegal, and it is advisable to resolve disputes through legal channels.

Accidentally thrown away: In some cases someone might mistakenly throw away such document during decluttering processes.

Typical Places to Locate a Missing Will

To find out if there is any copy at home, begin by looking around their residence when conducting a will search. Below are common areas that could contain:

Table/desk/office: The desk of an individual usually contains majority of personal paper works including his/her last testament.

Safe/Lockbox: In many cases if there is one at home then most probably they keep it there for safety purpose either in form of safe box or lock box respectively.

Filing Cabinet: Take every opportunity to review contents of this equipment in the house.

Bookshelf: Sometimes such will may be hidden inside or behind a book on such furniture.

Bedroom: You must check a person’s bedroom since they could have kept their last testament in a drawer or under-bed safe box.

Kitchen/pantry: A few may decide to remain with one of these, for instance, in the kitchen, and seal it up with an envelope; all containing important information regarding them even like testators’ names e.g. last wills.

Attic/storage room/basement: Therefore, if there was any such storage facility at home then probably he/she placed his/her final wishes into several boxes or containers that served a similar purpose.

Click Here – ESTATE TERMINOLOGY DEFINITIONS

Gathering Details

Get information about the person who has passed away. You will need to know your relative’s full name, date of birth and last known address. If you have any other identifier such as social security number, driver license number or passport number that will help locate them in our database please provide it too; thus assisting us with finding them faster.

Contact Their Lawyer

Sometimes when creating a living trust, people prefer using attorney so as to make what they bind themselves up with become more authentic. Check if the deceased had a lawyer and contact them to see if they have the original copy of the document. Although searching laterally is time-consuming finding another penmanship might save both time and effort which is worth considering.

Locate the Executor

If you want to find out who the deceased named as the executor, ask their family members or close associates. The will names the executor as the person legally responsible for carrying out the final wishes of the deceased. As soon as you find out whom your dear one’s executor was, call them and ask if they are in possession of an original or duplicate copy of his or her testament.

Check The Will Registry

The U.S. Will Registry is a national database that allows testators’ registered wills to be searched for. If finding a will has proven difficult for you, searching The U.S. Will Registry can be an invaluable resource in aiding you to determine where it might be held.

However, you should not lose hope since not all wills are registered. If a will is not registered in the registry, the system adds the searcher’s information to a “Missing Will Database.” This data is exclusively accessible to attorneys, informing them that loved ones are looking for a lost will.  In addition, the Will Registry sends an email to all registered attorneys in the deceased State alerting them to cross reference their records for the missing will.

TO SEARCH THE U.S. WILL REGISTRY FOR A MISSING WILL  –  CLICK HERE

Not Being Able to Locate an ‘Original Copy of Will

To settle an estate without encountering many problems, it is important to locate an original copy of a person’s will. Without this document, selecting an executor can become complicated and asset distribution even more so. Additionally, relatives may disagree on property division, leading to prolonged and expensive litigation.

Only Able to Locate a “Duplicate” Copy of a Will

If there is no original but only a photocopy of a Will, several options exist:

Family Pact– If all family members and beneficiaries agree to accept that copy, they can decide to distribute the estate without having to go through probate. This has to be agreed upon unanimously with full participation of all parties.

Submitting Copy To Probate Court –  If family members do not agree or have doubts about the authenticity of the duplicate, they can bring it before the probate court. The court will look at the circumstances of it and give its verdict on its legality. You may need to prove that the original was lost or inadvertently destroyed.

Seeking Legal Advice – A lawyer specializing in probate law and evidence can guide you accordingly. An attorney can help present your case in court or mediate between family members until reaching an agreement.

Affidavit Of Lost Will – Some jurisdictions allow an affidavit of lost wills. Typically, someone who knows the testament’s details and storage location presents this statement. It might also help convince a court to accept their copy.

Can’t Find Any Copy of a Will

If after comprehensive search, you don’t find Last will and testament, other steps must be taken. The option to consider is filing for intestacy succession in a probate court. This way an estate can be settled with no valid wills. Note however, that generally the entire process of this nature takes six months from the date of death. It is thus important to file a petition with probate court within this time frame.

Understanding Elective Share Rights (For Spouses)

The legal term elective share refers to the portion of assets that a surviving spouse can claim regardless of what the will might say. If a will is not found, the situation becomes more complicated. In these cases, the state may consider the estate “intestate,” meaning state laws will determine how to distribute the assets. Nonetheless, depending on the jurisdiction, the spouse may have entitlements to an elective share.

If someone thinks he or she should get elective shares and yet there is no will present for examination by court then such person can make application for hearing before any appropriate tribunal hereby asserting their right thereto. Thereafter, distribution of estate shall be decided upon by court basing on the State’s elective share statutes.

Intestate Succession (For Family Members)

If no will is found, the next step is to file for probate. Probate is a legal process where the court oversees the distribution of the deceased person’s assets according to intestate succession laws. The court appoints an administrator to handle the estate, pay any debts, and distribute the remaining property to the rightful heirs.

Acting Promptly

Keep in mind that if you’re entitled to an elective share, you must act quickly because there may be deadlines or time limits set by the court or state law for making such claims. It is advised to contact an attorney if you feel you are a spouse entitled to your elective share.

To learn more about elective share and each state’s statue on elective share:  CLICK HERE

Is There a Time Limit for Filing Probate

Definitely, jurisdictions usually impose a time limit for probate claims, known as the “statute of limitations”. The statutory period may vary from a couple of months to some years after the demise of the decedent. It is highly important to refer to the statutes in each jurisdiction in order to establish the precise time frame.

Failure to file within this stipulated period can deny you the opportunity to probate a will.  This in turn may lead into complications when executing or dividing an estate. For timely filing purposes, it would be advisable if one consulted with a probate attorney.

What Happens in Probate Court

Probate courts follow state laws governing intestacy when there is no will. These laws dictate how surviving family members share assets of a family member. These statutes typically allocate property to spouses and children first, but the rules vary from state to state. If there are no survivors, the government may end up claiming such assets.

Intestate Succession Petitioning Procedures

It is hard work as well as tedious to struggle through intestate succession petitions which can last long periods of time.  Therefore it would be highly suggested to get some guidance from a professional attorney who works in Probate.  An attorney will ensure compliance with statutory (law) provisions concerning administrators’ duties during this period while helping conclude the settlement processes.

Disputing A Will That Has Already Been Probated

Disputing a will after the probate period can be tough, however it’s not completely impossible. Reasons accepted for reopening probate are:

Fraud or forgery: Even after probate, someone can challenge a will if they prove it was forged or created fraudulently.

Undue influence: If someone proves that they unduly influenced the deceased to create or change their last wishes then they may dispute its validity.

Lack of testamentary capacity: This occurs if it’s proven that the deceased didn’t have the mental capacity when making or altering the will.

New evidence: If new evidence comes to light that was not available during the probate process and could impact the validity of the will, and therefore can be challenged.

Error or ambiguity: If there are errors or ambiguities in the will that were not addressed during probate.

There might also be specific time limits within which a contestation can happen after probate. Therefore, one must act fast if there are grounds for disagreement.

In Conclusion:

Searching for how to Locate a missing will is crucial to ensure the deceased last wishes are honored.  Having an original will in hand aids in following all legal requirements during probate.  In addition, it avoids controversies within families which can make bereavement processes difficult.

So, how do you find a missing will? At the outset, search usual places where people store their wills such as drawers, lockers or cabinets. Alternatively, contact law firms that could have acted as advocates of the deceased and might have retained his/her last testament there through them. You may also consider checking The U.S. Will Registry of registered wills for some help in finding it.

In instances where an original cannot be discovered embracing copies or intestate succession may be necessary. Do not delay because there are deadlines for making claims and court applications.

Probate disputes are complex and require an attorney’s assistance. Probate attorneys should be called upon to observe legal issues and facilitate resolution through estates.

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