An up-to-date Will can make dealing with the administration of someone’s estate much easier after they pass away. As well as setting out any personal wishes and bequests, a Will can help, in what is already an upsetting time, prevent disagreements between family members. But what happens if this important document can’t be found after a death? Steve Wright, Estates Director at The Fry Group, explains what you can do if you need to locate a Will.
If a loved one has died and you believe they have a legal Will, the first step is to make every effort to locate it. The Will is certain to contain the details of who should administer the estate – the Executors – along with any trustee information. It will explain who will inherit the estate along with any personal bequests such as property, cash or personal items. It may even detail any funeral wishes.
Finding a Will
Whilst most professionals would probably not recommend the storage of a Will at home, it will certainly be worth a search. Even if the original Will can’t be found, there may be a copy and some information about where the original is stored.
Looking through any paperwork may offer some initial clues, and you may be able to identify any law firm, bank or professional adviser that the deceased has had dealings with.
You will then be able to contact those organisations to inform them of your loved one’s passing, and ask if they have the Will. If they do, and you are one of the Executors, then you have a legal right to collect the Will. At this stage you’d need to provide a copy of the death certificate and some ID to prove who you are.
When a Will can’t be located
If your investigations have produced a copy of the signed Will (rather than the original) you can send it to the Probate Registry with an application for a Grant of Probate. At this stage you would normally need to provide a sworn document stating that the original Will cannot be located, along with details of the steps you have taken to try and find it. Be prepared that the Registry may want to hear from any potential beneficiaries who would not inherit under the terms of any copy of a Will.
If you are unable to find either the original Will or a copy, in England and Wales the Rules of Intestacy will apply. This means that the estate will be distributed to the close family members listed in those Rules, which include any spouse or civil partner, children or other descendants, parents, full-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants and half-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants. Other jurisdictions may differ.
How to properly store a Will
It remains the case that trying to locate a missing Will can be a distressing experience. To avoid this situation happening to you or your loved ones, it is a good idea to ensure that you make it clear to your family where your Will is stored. If your Will has been drafted professionally, the company who was responsible will keep a note of any instructions and discussions you will have had with them. This can be extremely useful if there is any disagreement over inheritance. You can also choose to appoint a professional Executor to help provide administrative and practical support through what is likely to be an emotional time for your family.
It is also recommended that you keep the details of your Will’s whereabouts with your important documents. Anyone searching for your Will should then be easily able to find it.
The Fry Group is able to act as a professional Executor, a role we have been fulfilling for many families over the years. We can also administer an estate where we are not appointed as the Executor. Please do get in touch with your nearest office to discuss any estate planning concerns, or if you need to review or update your Will.
Steve Wright, Estates Director