If you are not the executor of an estate in the United Kingdom, you will not automatically get a copy of the deceased person's will. However, most wills in England, Wales and Northern Ireland go through the probate, which is where a court confirms that the executor has the right to administer the estate. As part of this process, a copy of the will eventually becomes a publicly accessible record. In Scotland the rules are different and you are not guaranteed to be able to get a copy.
England and Wales:
Check the Justice Department website (see Resources below) to find the district probate registry or sub-registry covering the deceased person's residence. If it is in a convenient location, you can visit in person and search for the probate grant, which includes a copy of the will.
Download form PA1S (See Resources) if you cannot easily get to a district probate registry or sub-registry. You can complete this form and send it to the Probate Searches and Copies Department at Leeds District Probate Registry, York House, York Place, Leeds, LS1 2BA. You must include a fee of £6 plus £1 for each additional copy of the documents you require. You will get the copies through the mail.
Be patient. If somebody has died recently, it can take time for a court to grant probate and make the documents available. If you make a request through form PA1S, the search remains active for six months and you will get a copy of the documents once they become available.
Visit the Probate Office in Belfast or the District Registry in Londonderry if the locations are convenient and if probate was granted before 31 December 2009. In these circumstances you can search in person for the probate grant and get a copy of the will.
Register at the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (see Resources below) if you cannot get to Belfast or Londonderry, or if probate was granted after 2009. Once registered, click the "Launch Public Search Service" button and then choose the option to search for probate records. This carries a £20 fee.
Download the probate search form from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (see resources) if you do not want to visit Belfast or Londonderry, or use the online search.
Complete and return the form to the Probate Office, Royal Courts of Justice, Chichester Street, Belfast, BT1 3JF, enclosing a £30 fee.
Note that probate is known as Confirmation in Scotland and is handled by the commissary courts, and that a will is known in Scotland as a Testament. Note also that Scottish law does not require a copy of the Testament to be made public by the courts and you do not have a legal right to see a copy. Only some Testaments are available.
Visit the National Archives of Scotland at General Register House in Princes Street, Edinburgh if the person died more than 10 years ago. Here you can search for paper or digital records depending on the time of the Testament.
Write to the Commissary Department, Edinburgh Sheriff Court, 27 Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LB if the person died in the last 10 years. The court will be able to provide a copy of the testament if it is publicly available.
In some cases only part of a will requires probate. The copy of the will made available by the court may be an edited version only showing the part covered by probate. In such circumstances you will need to ask the executor to provide a full copy.
Several third-party companies offer paid services to provide copies of wills. Usually such companies do not have any special access to records, so you will simply be paying for convenience.
Tips and warnings
- In some cases only part of a will requires probate. The copy of the will made available by the court may be an edited version only showing the part covered by probate. In such circumstances you will need to ask the executor to provide a full copy.
- Several third-party companies offer paid services to provide copies of wills. Usually such companies do not have any special access to records, so you will simply be paying for convenience.