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Man going through folders of documents - tips on how to locate a will.

How to Locate a Will

A will helps secure your legacy for future generations. However, a will is only useful if it can be located when needed. Unfortunately, cases of lost wills are far too common. Most often, the problem arises due to your loved one’s failure to communicate the whereabouts of their will, let alone its existence, before passing on. Many don’t consider how many times someone relocates after their will has been stored.  Memories fail and loved ones don’t want to discuss your passing.  A will may also be challenging to locate because an attorney no longer practices. Whatever the reason, locating a will is crucial to honoring your loved one’s legacy.

So how exactly do you locate a missing will? Read on to find out.

Steps on How to Locate a Will

Upon the passing of your loved one, locating their will can be difficult, especially if they didn’t tell anyone where they kept it. However, with a bit of detective work, you can find the location of the will.

So where do you begin your search? The obvious place to start is the deceased person’s property, including their home safe, desk drawers, and file cabinets. Even if the will isn’t there, you may find a clue as to where it’s kept, such as a receipt from a will storage facility.

If nothing turns up, here are some other places to look.

Check for a Safe Deposit Box 

It’s common for people to keep important documents such as will and estate planning documents in a safety box. If you know where your loved one did their banking, schedule an appointment with their bank to determine if they had a safety box. If they did, there’s a legal procedure to follow to access a safe deposit box to check whether it contains a will. At the very least, the bank may need a certified copy of the death certificate and other requirements to give you access.

Contact Their Attorney

Most people who seek the help of an attorney when drafting a will often leave the original, signed version of their will with the attorney. So the chances are that your loved one left their will with their attorney.

Suppose you don’t know the attorney’s name, you might be able to comb through your loved one’s bank statements, checkbooks, and records hoping to identify an attorney. Look for payments to or communication with an individual lawyer or law firm. But if you know the attorney’s name but don’t have their phone number or address, you can contact the state bar association or browse their website to get those details.

Contact the lawyer you have identified to determine whether they wrote a will for the decedent and whether the will is still in their possession. Suppose they didn’t; the chances are that they referred the decedent to another lawyer who did.

In case the decedent’s attorney retired or passed away, the American Bar Association may be able to inform you whether another attorney took over and how to find them.

Ask Relatives and Friends 

Most people keep estate planning a secret and don’t often give copies of their estate planning documents to their loved ones, especially those named in the document. However, it won’t hurt to ask family and friends about the whereabouts of the decedent’s will.  It may be possible that one of them may have served as a witness to the will or may have some information or insight that may point you in the right direction regarding its whereabouts.

Check with the Probate Court 

Some U.S. states allow their residents to keep their will with the probate court at the time of the will’s writing, signing, and witnessing —a process known as registering the document. Suppose you reside in a state that allows its residents to place their will with the court; the chances are that your loved one’s will is already with the probate court. Another possibility is the person named as the executor of the will has already submitted it for probate.

Suppose your loved one’s will is already filed with the probate court, or if the probate process has already been completed, the will becomes a public record. This means anyone who wants to see it can access it. Obtaining a file number from the executor of the will makes it easier to locate the will.

Even so, if you contact the court in your loved one’s county of residence at the time of their death, you can obtain their will by simply submitting their name, date of birth, date of death, and any other information that the clerk may ask for.

Search a Will Registry

Another excellent way to find a will is to check a will registry. A will registry is a service someone uses after drafting their will. This service doesn’t retain a copy of the will. Instead, it retains information about who drafted a will and its location. Will registry services help avoid a situation where a decedent’s will can’t be located by their loved ones?

What if You Can’t Locate a Will

Suppose your efforts to find a will are futile; the probate court will likely take the position that the testator destroyed their will to revoke it. In such a situation, the deceased person’s estate becomes distributed according to the state law of succession. Under unique circumstances, the court may deem a copy of the will acceptable if the original cannot be located.

Locate a Missing Will Using the U.S. Will Registry

Finding a missing will through the U.S. Will Registry involves a simple search. The search taps into the national database registry, which documents the location of wills and final estate documents. You can conduct a will search using the name, birthdate, and state where the deceased resided. If a match indicating where their last will is registered is found, you will need to provide the U.S. Will Registry the searcher’s identification and the death certificate or a copy of the Public Death notice, upon which the location of the will (or the name of the lawyer who prepared the will) is released to the family members listed as having permission.

With will registrations dating as far back as 1967, you have excellent chances of locating a will with the U.S. Will Registry. 

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