Finding a will after someone dies
09 December 2019
Finding a person's will after they have died can sometimes be easier said than done. In this article, we explain where to look for the will and what to do if you simply cannot find it.
When someone dies, arrangements have to be made to administer their estate. This includes dealing with their house, bank accounts, investments and tax affairs, and ensuring that whatever is left is correctly distributed to those entitled to inherit it.
Many people will write a will during their lifetime, which is a legal document setting out how they would like their estate to be distributed after they die. The will firstly appoints an executor, who is the individual with the legal authority to administer the estate. The executor may have to obtain a grant of probate to carry out their duties in full. The will then names beneficiaries and sets out what they should inherit from the estate.
If the deceased didn't leave a will, or if the will cannot be located, then the estate will be distributed in line with inheritance laws called the rules of intestacy. These rules are strict and may not align with the deceased's wishes. This is why it's so important to establish whether there is a will, and to successfully locate it if so.
How to find a will
1. Search the house
It sounds obvious, but the first place you should look is at the deceased's home, as many people store their will (or a copy of it) in their home. If you know of a safe in the deceased's home or secure locked drawers where they kept paperwork, then this would be a sensible place to start. Other popular places include drawers or cupboards in either the study, attic or master bedroom.
Although it is important for an executor to locate the will, it is strongly advisable to seek agreement from the deceased's family before searching the house, to avoid any allegations of trespass.
2. Ask their solicitor
If the deceased used a solicitor or other professional to write their will, it is possible that this professional would still be storing the will for them. Get in touch with their solicitor (or ring around multiple solicitors if you're unsure of who they used).
If you are the executor, you would be entitled to obtain the will from whoever is storing it. The solicitor will ask for the death certificate and proof of your identification before giving you the Will. If the solicitor is no longer in business, contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This organisation holds records for solicitors in England and Wales. It should have a record of who took over the solicitor's practice and, ultimately, where the Will is being stored now.
3. Ask their bank
Sometimes banks store wills and other important documents (such as property deeds) on behalf of individuals. If you are the executor of the estate, you could ask the deceased's bank if they have a copy of the will. If they do, then you can request this from them. The bank will usually ask for the death certificate and proof of your identification before giving this to you.
4. Carry out a will search
There are companies that can carry out searches to locate missing wills. These companies will search through wills that are stored by solicitors and will writers all over the country , as well as carrying out more specific searches near to the deceased's home. They may also carry out a search of the National Wills Register although it is currently not mandatory to register your will on a database so this search is not conclusive. These companies will charge a fee for their service.
You could also contact the London Principle Probate Registry to ask if they are storing the will in their wills storage facility.
What happens if the will can't be found?
If you have carried out all of the above searches and are still unable to find the original will, the estate would need to be administered under the assumption that the deceased didn't leave a will. This is called dying 'intestate' and in this situation the estate would be administered by the next of kin in line with the rules of intestacy.
However in certain situations it may be possible to administer an estate on the basis of a copy will, if one exists. A probate solicitor would be able to provide further advice on this.
If you are looking for the will of a loved one and not having much success, contact a probate specialist who can give you the support you need.