It is a common misconception that after a relative passes, a copy of his or her will may be found with the courts. Although a will may be filed prior to death in some jurisdictions, this is not always true. Generally, a will is not filed with the courts until the estate is going through probate. Here are some easy steps to follow when searching for a lost will.
A common place for people to leave wills is with their attorneys. If you know who the decedent's attorney was, simply call the attorney and ask if he or she has a copy of the will on file. If you do not know the decedent's attorney, look around his or her belongings to see if you can find a business card of a law office or a check written to an unfamiliar name. Check the phone book to see if the name belongs to an attorney.If the decedent's attorney does not have the will, or you are unable to locate an attorney at all, move on to the next step.
Another common place for people to keep wills is in safe deposit boxes. The best indicator that the will is here is a safe deposit key among the decedent's possessions: These keys are usually small and labelled "Do Not Duplicate". Even with the key, you may need to open the safe deposit box in the presence of a U.S. Marshall, or obtain a court order to open it. If the decedent had no safe deposit box or the will is not there, try looking in his or her home.
If the decedent had a vault or safe in his or her home, look here first. If you do not have the key or do not know the combination, you may have to call a locksmith to help you open it. If you have no luck with this, keep searching the decedent's home.
Look in places such as desk drawers, in file cabinets, in dresser drawers, and in the pages of books, particularly the Bible, Torah, or Q'uran as this is a common place for people to store important documents and money.
If all else fails, look under the mattress. It may sound cliché, but many people keep things hidden under their mattresses for safekeeping.
To avoid having to search for wills, have a talk with your loved ones about whether or not they have wills and where they keep them. If you find anything of importance after the estate has gone through probate, such as a subsequent will, take it to an attorney.
Tips and warnings
- To avoid having to search for wills, have a talk with your loved ones about whether or not they have wills and where they keep them.
- If you find anything of importance after the estate has gone through probate, such as a subsequent will, take it to an attorney.