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Man searching through kitchen drawers frantically looking for a will

Will Search: Where to Begin

A will search is the process of finding out if a person has left a valid will. It can be important for you to know if someone has made a will, as it could affect your inheritance rights.

Overall, finding a will is critical to ensuring that the deceased person’s final wishes are carried out, and their assets are distributed according to their wishes. It can also help to streamline the probate process and minimize conflict among family members.

With a will in place, the probate court can ensure fair distribution of assets according to the deceased person’s wishes, thereby smoothing the process of estate settlement. Unfortunately, there are instances where family members know a will existed, but now they fear it can’t be found.

To follow we will provide you with a comprehensive list of potential locations to search for a missing will.

5 Reasons Why a Will May Go Missing

      1. Poor organization: If the deceased person did not keep their important documents organized.
      2. Misplaced or lost: The will may have been misplaced or lost over time. This is especially true if the deceased person moved frequently or had a cluttered living space.
      3. Maliciously destroyed: The will may have been stolen by someone seeking to benefit from the estate or to hide the existence of the will.
      4. Unintentionally thrown away: Someone may have accidentally thrown away the will during a decluttering process.

Search All Areas of the Home

When doing a will search, begin with searching their home. Below are some common places to look:

    • Desk or office: The person may have kept their important documents, including their last will, in their desk or office.
    • Safe or lockbox: Many people who have a safe or lockbox in their home will store it there for safekeeping.
    • Filing cabinet: Look through any filing cabinets in the home.
    • Bookshelves: Sometimes people hide their last will inside a book or behind a book on a bookshelf.
    • Bedroom: Check the bedroom of the person, as they may have kept their last will in a drawer or strong box under the bed.
    • Kitchen or pantry: Some people choose to keep important documents, including their last will, in a sealed envelope in the kitchen or pantry.
    • Attic or basement: If the person had a storage area in their home, they may have kept their last will in a box or storage container.

Gathering Information

Try to collect information about the deceased. You will need to know the full name of your relative, their date of birth, and their last known address. If you have any other identifying information such as social security number, driver’s license number or passport number that would help with locating them in our database please provide it as well.

Contact Their Attorney

When a person creates a last will and testament, they may choose to work with an attorney to ensure that their wishes and binding. It would be wise to investigate if the deceased had a lawyer and to contact them to see if they have a copy of the will. Tracking down the document through other means can be time-consuming, but this potential saving of time and effort is worth considering.

Finding the Executor

If a person has died, you may be able to ask their family or friends if they ever mentioned who their executor was. An executor is someone who is named in a will and has legal authority to carry out the wishes of the deceased person. If you know the name of your loved one’s executor, contact them directly to obtain a copy or duplicate copy of your loved one’s last will and testament.

Search The Will Registry

The U.S. Will Registry is a national database that allows you to search for wills that have been registered by the testator. If you’re having difficulty locating a will, searching The U.S. Will Registry can be a valuable resource that may help you find the information you need. Keep in mind, however, that not all wills are registered, so it is still important to exhaust all search options before assuming your will search is over.

Challenges of Settling an Estate Without a Will

Finding a will is crucial to settling an estate without significant challenges. Without a will, it may be difficult to determine who should serve as the executor of the estate, and how the assets should be distributed. In some cases, family members may disagree about how to divide the assets, which can lead to lengthy and costly legal battles.

Determining Executorship and Asset Distribution Without a Will

The absence of a will can create confusion about who should serve as the executor of the estate. This can lead to disagreements among family members and delays in the probate process. In addition, without clear instructions on asset distribution, family members may disagree on how to divide the assets. This may lead to legal battles and further delays.

Notifying Potential Heirs in the Absence of a Will

In addition, if a will is not located, it may be challenging to locate and notify all potential heirs. A delay in the probate process can occur due to this. It can also cause incomplete or delayed distribution of assets. The probate court will require evidence that all potential heirs have been located and notified before distributing the assets..

What Happens When You Can’t Find a Will?

If you don’t find the Last will and testament after a thorough search, you’ll need to take further actions. One option is to file a petition for intestate succession in probate court. This process settles an estate when there’s no valid will. It’s crucial to emphasize that the probate process typically spans six months from the date of death. Within this timeframe, it’s essential to file a petition with the probate court.

What Happens in Probate Court?

In cases of intestacy, probate court follows state laws of intestacy. The court distributes assets among surviving family members. These laws vary by state, but generally, they prioritize the distribution of assets to the spouse and children. If there are no surviving family members, the assets may go to the state.

Filing for intestate succession can be complex and time-consuming. It’s advisable to enlist the assistance of an experienced probate attorney. An attorney can guide you and explain legal rights and obligations during the process. They also ensure the estate is settled as per the law.

Disputing a Will After the Probate Period

Disputing a will after the probate period can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The probate period is the time during which the deceased person’s will is presented to the court and validated.  This varies depending on jurisdiction. Once the probate process is completed and the will is deemed valid, it becomes legally binding.

Disputing a Will After the Probate Period

    1. Fraud or forgery: If someone proves that the will was forged or created through fraudulent means, they may be able to challenge it even after probate.
    2. Undue influence: If someone proves that they unduly influenced the deceased to create or modify the will, they may question the validity of the will.
    3. Lack of testamentary capacity: If proven the deceased did not have the mental capacity to understand the consequences of creating or modifying a will, the validity of the will may be challenged.
    4. New evidence: If new evidence comes to light that was not available during the probate process and could impact the validity of the will, it may be possible to challenge it.
    5. Error or ambiguity: If there are errors or ambiguities in the will that were not addressed during probate.

It’s important to note that the process of disputing a will after probate can be complex and varies depending on jurisdiction. It often involves legal proceedings and may require the assistance of an experienced attorney specializing in estate law. Additionally, there may be specific time limits within which a will can be contested after probate, so it’s essential to act promptly if there are grounds for dispute.

Hiring a Professional to Conduct a Will Search

If you are looking to conduct a will search, you may want to consider hiring a professional such as a probate attorney, a private investigator, or a genealogist. These professionals have experience and expertise in locating wills and can assist you in your search.

A probate attorney can help you navigate the legal process of finding a will. The attorney would search the probate court records and contact any relevant parties to locate a copy of the will.

A private investigator can also conduct a thorough search for the will.  This would include contacting potential witnesses, searching public records, and using other investigative techniques to locate the document.

A genealogist may be able to assist in locating a will if you know the names of the deceased’s relatives, as they may be able to track down living family members who may have knowledge of the will’s whereabouts.

It’s important to note that the cost of these services can vary. Therefore it’s a good idea to do your research and get quotes from several different professionals before making a decision.

In Conclusion

If you are unable to locate a Last will and testament, it is important take steps to settle the estate. This may involve filing for intestate succession in probate court. Alternatively, you can work with an attorney to distribute assets among surviving family members. Carrying out the deceased’s wishes is essential, despite the challenging nature of the process. It’s important to ensure assets are distributed fairly among heirs.


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.


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