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Obtaining a copy of the will
When a will is made, the executors are usually told where the will is stored.
When you make an application for probate to the Probate Registry, you must submit the original will to be proved.
Finding the original will
When a will is made, the executors are usually told where the will is stored. We recommend that a thorough search of the deceased person’s paperwork is done to locate a will, or to locate any reference to a will being held by a law firm or will writing services company. If a solicitor, lawyer or other professional has drafted the will, then it is normally held with them.
Executors of the will are entitled to obtain a copy of the will from the solicitor. It’s also possible that a bank may be storing the will.
Before the will can be released, the executors have to prove that they are who they say they are (providing proof of identity) and provide evidence of the death (by showing the death certificate).
In England & Wales there is no central register of wills and sometimes the firm of solicitors which drafted the will has either closed down or been taken over. This may make it difficult or even impossible to find the original will.
If you know that the will was made by solicitors and it was not revoked, you can contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Intervention Archives department. When the SRA close down a firm, they take all the documents and papers that relate to its clients, and so the SRA may be able to locate the original will for you.
Other options include contacting the London Principal Probate Registry who have a wills storage facility. In more recent years a company called Certainty have started to keep a register of wills and can conduct a search of the register for you.
Initially, it is only the executors who are entitled to see the will, and they do not have to disclose the contents of the will straightaway. However, they might not be able to close accounts or sell assets such as property and shares until the court has issued a grant of representation. This document confirms the executor’s legal authority to administer the estate.
When the grant has been issued the will becomes a public document and anyone can apply to the court to get a copy of the will.
Also see how to read a will when someone dies
What if I find a copy of the signed will?
If your search for the original will is unsuccessful but you have located a signed copy of the original will, you may be able to submit a copy to be proved by the Probate Registry.
To do this, documentation must be submitted to the Probate Registry who will consider the paperwork and either give permission for you to prove the copy will, or refuse permission. The Probate Registry will confirm their reasons should they refuse permission, or they will request further evidence from the executor.
When making the application, the executor/s must submit an Affidavit. This is a written statement which must confirm, in detail:
- the circumstances relating to the loss of the original will
- the attempts that the executor has made to locate it
- details of anyone who would benefit from the estate if the copy of the will was not proved (i.e. someone who would benefit under the rules of intestacy.)
In some circumstances the Probate Registry may require evidence from the beneficiaries who would inherit under the rules of intestacy, and obtain their consent to prove the will copy.
As an executor of a will you must do all that you can to prove the will with the Probate Registry.
What if I can't find the original will or a copy?
If you have exhausted all options to locate the original will or a copy of the will and neither can be found, the estate will need to be administered in accordance with the rules of intestacy. These are the inheritance rules that apply when there isn't a will.
Specialist probate solicitors
Many of our Probate Solicitors, Lawyers and Probate Case Managers are members of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP). All STEP members are subject to an extensive Code of Professional Conduct, requiring them at all times to act with integrity and in a manner that inspires the confidence, respect and trust of their clients and of the wider community.
Probate Solicitors and Local Probate Consultants are available in England and Wales only for customers using our Probate Complete Service.
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