When someone dies, arrangements have to be made to administer their estate. This includes dealing with their bank accounts, house, 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, a legal document describing how they wish their estate to be distributed after death.
They will first appoint an executor, the individual with the legal authority to administer the estate should they die.
The executor may be required to obtain a grant of probate to perform their duties fully. The Will then names beneficiaries and sets out who inherits what and what portion of the estate.
If the deceased did not 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. However, these rules are strict and may not align with the deceased’s wishes.
This is why it’s essential to establish whether there is a Will and to locate it if so successfully.
How to find a will
Search the house or the main place of residency
The first place to look is at the deceased’s primary residence, as most people store their Will in their home.
Suppose you know of a safe in the deceased’s home or securely locked drawers where they kept paperwork. This would be a sensible place to start. Other popular spots include drawers or cupboards in the study, attic, or main bedroom.
Although an executor needs to locate the Will, it is advisable to seek agreement from the deceased’s family before searching the house to avoid any allegations of trespass.
Ask the deceased 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. Instead, contact their solicitor (or ring around multiple solicitors if you’re unsure of whom they used).
If you are the executor, you would be entitled to obtain the Will from whoever is keeping 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 (SRA).
This organisation holds records for solicitors in England and Wales. It should have a history of who took over the solicitor’s practice and where the Will is being stored now.
Ask the deceased bank
Sometimes banks store wills and other essential documents (such as property deeds) on behalf of individuals. For example, if you are the estate executor, 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.
Conduct a search for the Will
Some companies can conduct searches to locate missing wills. These companies will search through wills stored by solicitors and Will writers all over the country and carry out more specific searches near the deceased’s home.
They may also search the National Wills Register, although it is currently not mandatory to register your Will on a database, so this search is not conclusive. As a result, these companies will charge a fee for their service.
You could also contact the London Principal 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 can still not 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’; 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 based on a copy will if one exists. For example, 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.