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What Happens If a Will Is Not Filed

What Happens If a Will Is Not Filed?

When someone creates a will, there are many different ways to store it. Some people choose to keep their will at home in a special file box, fireproof safe, or drawer. If an attorney drafts the will, clients usually have the option to leave it with the attorney. Law firms use a variety of document storage systems to safeguard original wills. Lastly, there’s the option of filing a will with the local court responsible for handling estates. Some states call it a probate court, while others refer to it as district court, or surrogate court. Whatever the name, it may be the last resort when looking for a loved one’s will. But what happens if a will is not filed? Are there any other places to search?

Before proceeding further, it’s important to understand the distinction between filing a will with a Will Registry and filing it for probate.

Filing a Will in Probate Court Prior to Passing

Some individuals take the proactive step of submitting their original wills to the court or county’s “Probate of Wills” to ensure their safekeeping. This ensures confidentiality until the testator’s passing. Following notification (Death Certificate), the county transforms the will into a public record, making it accessible to interested parties. Some Probate Courts provide online databases, simplifying the process of searching for stored wills.  This enhances the accessibility for individuals seeking such information.

However, the availability and accessibility of such information may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific policies of the probate court. It’s advisable to contact the probate court directly or visit their website to inquire about their procedures for accessing wills and other probate documents.

Filing a Will for a Deceased Individual: Understanding the Process

Filing a deceased person’s will typically involves submitting the document to the appropriate court or government authority. It is typically required by law to file a will for a deceased person. The executor or personal representative named in the will typically handles the filing, but an attorney or legal representative may also assist with the process.

If not Filed They May Face Legal Consequences: 

Many states require a person in possession or custody of a decedent’s will to file it with the appropriate probate court. Failure to do this within a reasonable time can result in civil and criminal charges. Often there are state laws that dictate what the deadline is. In other words, if a decedent’s will is not filed with the probate court by the person who possesses it, he or she may be liable to anyone who has an interest in the estate. Not all states have this requirement, so it’s important to know the laws of the state where the decedent died.

Use an Online Registry to Search for a Will

When searching for a will, it’s imperative to exhaust all options. The U.S. Will Registry is an online registry of wills that allows you to search its database.  The U.S. Will Registry was established in 1997. Registered wills date back to 1967. Millions of wills are registered nationally and globally. An online search is simple and can provide great relief for your family.

If a loved one registered their will or their attorney registered it for them, the search results will provide the following information:

  • Where the will is located;
  • Who has possession of the will; and
  • Which designated family member/s can access the registry.

In the event the will  you are searching for is not located in the database, your information will be added to a missing will database. This database is accessible to attorneys who can contact you if they have the decedent’s will.

Dying Intestate Succession

When a person dies without having a valid will in place, their property passes by what is called “intestate succession“, according to state law. Simply put, if you don’t have a will, the state will make one for you. All fifty states have intestate laws (or “statutes”) in place.


The purpose of intestate succession laws is to distribute the deceased wealth in a manner that closely represents how the typical person would have created their estate plan, if they had a will.  Unfortunately, this plan could have dramatically differed from what the person really would have wanted. Even if family members firmly believe that the state’s intestate protocol wouldn’t reflect their loved one’s wishes, no exceptions are made when no valid will exists.


Don’t Have a Will, or Need to Update Your Will?

In addition to the Will Registry, The U.S. Will Registry has created a FREE online will program for the public to create a user-friendly, online legal will from your home. Creating a will from home gives you the ability to take your time and ensure your wishes are accurately reflected.

Explore Comprehensive Last Will Management with The U.S. Will Registry

Discover our range of services: Free Will Creation, Free Will Registration, Missing Will Search, Free iCloud Storage and Free Death Notices, and Obituaries.
Create and Safeguard your will and ensure peace of mind.

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