When people leave clear instructions on where to find their wills in the event of their death, it's a relatively easy process. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, the deceased may have drawn up a will years ago, but then changed it and didn't tell his loved ones where to locate the more recent version. Finding out if a deceased person has a will can take time and perseverance, but there are numerous techniques that can aid the search.
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Contact the probate court. Many jurisdictions have county (or district) probate courts. Call, write or go in person to the probate court in which the decedent lived. Provide that person's name to the clerk or judge's office and ask if there is a will on file. If the county does not have a separate probate court, call the county court and ask for the probate division. A probate court can verify if a will exists, but they cannot give you a copy unless you are authorised as an executor.
Contact the decedent's lawyer. Many times a copy of a decedent's will is kept with his lawyer (References 1). If you're unsure which lawyer drew up the will, ask the decedent's family members, friends, minister or banker if they know. If you have access to the decedent's belongings, check for a lawyer's or law firm's name in address books, cancelled checks, business cards and so forth. If a name is unfamiliar, look it up in the yellow pages or online. If it's a lawyer, contact her and ask if she or another lawyer at her firm prepared the decedent's will.
Ask a friend or family member. Often, people close to the decedent will know if that person had a will. Sometimes, friends or family members served as witnesses to the signing of the will and may know where it was kept or who drew it up.
Ask the decedent's banker. People sometimes keep their wills in safe deposit boxes. If you know which bank the decedent used, contact the bank manager and ask if the decedent maintained a safe deposit box there. Unless your name is on the signature card for that safe deposit box, however, you will need a court order to access its contents.
Ask associates of the decedent. If you're having trouble locating the will or lawyer who drew it up, widen your search to others who might have that information. Contact the decedent's accountant, financial planner or other trusted adviser. Consider taking out an ad in the local paper where the decent lived, explaining that you're seeking anyone with knowledge of the decedent's will or attorney, and provide your contact information.
Look in obvious places. If you have access to the decedent's home, check papers in filing cabinets, desk drawers and so forth. Also, look in places that aren't so obvious, such as tackle boxes, book shelves, under mattresses, and in the back of closets.
Hire a private investigator. An investigator has the skills and resources necessary to dig deeper for information about the decedent. This includes information that leads to the will or the attorney who prepared it. To find a qualified investigator, contact your state professional private investigator's association.
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