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, if there is one.

How do I find out if there’s a will during probate?

When a will is made, the executors are usually told where the will is stored, but this isn't always the case. If a solicitor, lawyer or other professional has drafted the will, then it might be stored with them.

Finding the original will

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.

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.

Executors 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, by providing proof of identity. They must also provide evidence of the death (by showing the death certificate).

Other options to find the original will include contacting the London Principal Probate Registry who have a wills storage facility. A company called Certainty also 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 straight away. 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 (such as 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.

If you need help with probate, contact us:

Authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Estate administration in England and Wales is not a reserved legal activity which means that unregulated providers can offer estate administration services regardless of whether they are insured, experienced or qualified to provide a full service.

Co-op Legal Services is a trading name for Co-operative Legal Services Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, giving you peace of mind knowing that your estate administration affairs are being dealt with by a regulated organisation and a brand you know and trust.