How to Find a Lost Will : What You Can Do
A loved-one has died suddenly. You and your family must make the preparations for the funeral, but you may also need to apply for a Grant of Probate so that you can wind up their affairs. Only there is a problem — you believe that they made a Will when they were alive, but you can’t find it anywhere. Is this your situation? It is not uncommon. What can be done?
Read our brief guide on what you can do to locate a missing Will.
1) Summary in 30 Seconds
- When a person dies, it is not always easy to locate their Will.
- As well as carefully searching their property and posessions for a Will, there are a number of places you can contact who might have the Will stored with them.
- If no Will can be found or traced, the estate will be declared Intestate. This means the courts will decide who will be Executor over the estate, and the Rules of Intestacy dictate that the next-of-kin will inherit everything.
2) Where to Look
Finding a Will is not easy due to a few different kinds of obstacles. For instance, there is no central database for Wills. Wills can be made and kept at home, only to be misplaced in a move or a house clear-out. Wills drafted and stored at a solicitor firm can change hands several times if the firm is bought and sold again. People can also lose touch with family members and then are not aware of where any important documents are kept.
If you need to locate the Will of a recently deceased person, there are a number of things you can do to try and find it. Don’t put it off – if there are multiple people clearing out the deceased’s house or personal affects, proof of the Will’s location or even the Will itself could accidentally get thrown away or destroyed. So time is of the essence.
Carefully look through all the deceased’s personal documents and paperwork. A Will might not be immediately recognisable at first — it could be a few sheets of paper, or left in an unmarked envelope. The first places to look would be their office, in a desk, filing cabinets, safes and so forth. A Will could be kept with other important documents such as birth certificates or marriage certificates. Did they have a place to store items outside the home? Look for any information as to whether they had a safety deposit box or a storage unit.
Even if you don’t find the Will, look through and examine their personal effects for any correspondence or receipts from solicitors, accountants or social services agencies. These papers could indicate the Will is being stored somewhere else.
3) Who You Can Contact
- Call the law firms in your local area. Most people who use a solicitor to write their Will do so with a firm in their local area. Even if a firm is relatively new in the area, they may have consolidated with other firms and now store their Wills too.
- The Will Writers Association. This is an association of professional Will Writers. They also store Wills.
- The Solicitors Regulation Authority. This is a regulatory body for all solicitors. If a firm closes down, they will take possession of the firm’s Wills. If you cannot trace a solicitor or law firm, it might be worth enquiring with them.
- The Law Society. This is the official directory for all solicitors and law firms in England and Wales.
- Close friends and other family members. Ask them if they ever had a conversation about the deceased’s Will. If you were not personally close to the deceased, it is worth talking with those who were. They might recall conversations where it was discussed, or they might have even been given some papers for safe-keeping.
- The deceased’s bank. Some banks also store Wills for their customers.
- Doctors. As well as being in regular contact with the deceased, some doctors attest or act as a witness to Wills or other legal documents. You can contact the deceased’s primary care physician or GP and enquire as to whether this was the case at any point.
4) Other Ways to Find a Lost Will
Place an advertisement. You can put an advert in the Gazette newspaper in hopes that it may be spotted by the solicitor that wrote your loved one’s Will.
Hire a Will finder. There are several companies that will undertake a Will search for you for a fee.
5) What If There's No Will?
In many cases, families search for the lost Will but it doesn’t turn up. This can be very frustrating, especially if you know the deceased definitely made a Will at some point. After exhausting all avenues, you will have to conclude that it has been misplaced or lost entirely, or was even destroyed by the deceased before their death, either on purpose or accidentally.
Without a valid Will, the deceased’s estate will be distributed according to the Rules of Intestacy. The state will decide on who will be the Executor of the estate (the person who handles the Grant of Probate and winds up their affairs). All the deceased’s money, possessions and assets will be inherited by their next-of-kin. This is usually the surviving spouse or children. If no living relatives can be traced, the estate will go to the Crown.
6) Keeping a Will Safe
A lost Will can cause a huge headache for a family at an already stressful time. No one would purposely make it difficult for their loved one’s to wind up their estate, and yet Wills still become lost or misplaced. Think about implementing some measures to protect your estate and prevent your own Will from becoming lost.
For some, this is going to mean writing their Will in the first place. If this is you, consider instructing a solicitor to write your Will and storing it for you. This not only helps to make sure it stays safe over the years, but makes it accessible if you need to alter or change it at a later date.
- If you have the original copy of your Will in your personal possession, consider putting it in a safer place – storing it with a law firm or a Will bank.
- Keep a copy of your Will in a safe place.
- Make sure your close family or a trusted friend knows you have a Will and where the original is kept. This is especially important information for those who are named as Executors to your estate in your Will.
- Keep your affairs organised and up-to-date. Over the years, perhaps with several house moves, it can be easy to lose track of important papers and documents, and subsequently forget where they are or the last time you updated them. Every 5 years or so, do a check to ensure all your personal documents are valid and still relevant. If any of them appear to now be out-of-date, don’t procrastinate sorting it out.
Whether you’re sorting out a family member’s estate or making your own plans, it’s best not to try and handle it alone. Get advice from a solicitor who specialises in this area and can assist you through a stressful and frustrating situation.