What Happens If You Cannot Locate A Will?
When your loved one has died, your first task will usually be arranging their funeral and figuring out how to pay for it.
More often than not, the person’s bank or building society will make direct payment of the funeral invoice, providing that the person had enough funds in their account to cover the costs. You should contact the bank directly to provide them with a Death Certificate for the account holder, along with the funeral invoice. The bank or building society can then let you know if they need any further information in order to make the payment.
After you have arranged this, you may be wondering where to go next. Usually, the next step would be to try and find the person’s Last Will and Testament which, unfortunately, is sometimes easier said than done. In this article, our Wills, Trusts, Tax and Probate Solicitors explain where you can look for the deceased’s Will and what to do if you simply cannot locate it.
When a person dies, their Estate has to be administered. This could be by the Executors named in their Will or, if they did not leave a Will, by the person or people who are entitled under the Rules of Intestacy. These people are known as the Personal Representatives (PRs) of the deceased’s Estate. The PRs must deal with the deceased’s bank accounts, property, investments, tax affairs, and payments of any debts or liabilities (including Testamentary expenses). You can read more about the role of an Executor or Administrator in our local solicitor’s for Wills article, here.
The importance of finding out whether the deceased left a Will is often that their Will may not leave their Estate to the same people who would inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. Therefore, if no effort is made to locate any Will that the deceased could have made during their lifetime, and the Estate is distributed to relatives under the Rules, this could cause serious issues if a Will with contrary intention is located in the future.
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How to Find a Will when someone has died?
1. Search the deceased’s house
Our local solicitors for Wills would first and foremost suggest searching the person’s house. Usually, if the person has made a Will during their lifetime, either the original will be in their house or, if they stored the Will with their Wills, Trusts, Tax and Probate Solicitors, there should be some paperwork alluding to a Will being made. If the deceased had a safe or secured locked drawers with their important paperwork, start here and, if you have no joy, then work your way around their house. Other popular safe-storage options include drawers or cupboards in a study, the main bedroom, or an attic/cellar.
If you believe that you are named as an Executor of a Will, and you need to search the deceased’s home, make sure that you try and obtain the permission of the deceased’s family or the other occupants of the property, to avoid being accused of trespassing.
2. Contact the deceased’s Wills, Trusts, Tax and Probate Solicitors
When any of our clients make their Will using our team of local solicitors for Wills, we offer them free Will storage. The majority of our Wills clients will accept this offer, safe in the knowledge that their Last Will and Testament is stored with a professional firm. Therefore, if your loved one has died, you should contact the deceased’s local solicitor - or as many local firms as you can - to ascertain whether or not they held a Will for the deceased.
If you know that the deceased had made a Will, only the Executors will be entitled to obtain the original document from which ever firm is storing it. The Solicitors will need the authority of all of the named Executors, as well as proof of their identity, before releasing an original Will. They will also need proof that the person has died. This can sometimes seem like an annoyance to the Executors who have lost their loved one and just want to get on with matters, however, it’s important for our Wills clients to know that their Will would not just be released to anybody, especially whilst they are still alive.
If the Solicitors are no longer in business, you can try and contact the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, who would usually have a record of who took over the Solicitor’s practice and where the Will is now stored.
3. Contact the Deceased’s Bank
Sometimes banks or building societies will have an offer, where they draft and store the deceased’s Will or other important documents, such as property deeds. You could contact the deceased’s bank, or previous banks, to find out whether they store a Will. If you are named as the Executor, you could ask them to release the Will to you.
4. Carry out a Will search
There are companies who can carry out Will searches on behalf of an Estate, to help locate missing or unknown Wills. These companies will usually check with local solicitors for Wills in the area where the deceased lived (and sometimes previously lived, worked or owned a business). They will also check the national Wills database and search over the country, if necessary, to try and locate the Will.
You can read more about these searches and the fees charges in our local solicitors for Wills’ article, here.
So, you have exhausted all of the options you can possibly think of to try and locate the deceased’s Will, but you still cannot find it. What happens if the Will cannot be found?
Well, at this stage, the Estate would usually be administered under the assumption that the deceased did not leave a Will. This is called dying ‘intestate’ and would therefore mean that the deceased’s Estate would pass under the Rules of Intestacy. You can use the gov.uk intestacy checker, here, to find out how your loved one’s Estate should pass.
However, our local solicitors for Wills would point out that if you have a copy of the deceased’s Will (but have been unable to locate the original), you may be able to apply for Probate using the copy alone. You should contact our expert team of Probate Solicitors in Preston or Lancaster to discuss how to deal with an Estate using a copy Will, and how much it would cost for our team to assist with the application.