How to Find a Will Left by a Deceased Relative

by A.L. Kennedy

    When a relative dies, finding the will often takes a backseat to funeral preparations and other urgent matters. To distribute your deceased relative's estate, however, you will need to find the will and file it with the probate court. Finding a will left by a deceased relative goes much more quickly if you know where to look, as well as who to ask about the will's whereabouts.

    Step 1

    Call the probate court. Some states, such as Ohio, allow a person to file his will with the court for safekeeping while he is still alive. If your local probate court provides this service, ask the clerk if the court has your deceased relative's will. You may need to provide your relative's full name, address, and/or Social Security number, so have these on hand when you call. Court rules on whom the court can release the will to vary by state. Some states, like Ohio, only allow the executor or a person specifically named in writing by the testator to pick up the will. If no one can pick up the will, you may be able to ask the court to open a probate estate.

    Step 2

    Try your relative's safe deposit box, if she had one. Some states allow a deceased person's family to enter the safe deposit box to check for a will, life insurance policy or other important documents. Many of these states, however, will seal the safe deposit box on the death of its owner and will allow it to be opened only by court order. An attorney who practices estate law in your state can tell you what steps to take if the safe deposit box is sealed, according to MetLife.

    Step 3

    Check your relative's home. Many people keep important documents in their homes, often in a fire safe or filing cabinet. If your deceased relative has a close family member, such as a spouse or child, who is still living, ask this person if they know where the will is. Also, ask their permission before sorting through your deceased relative's important documents. Even if you know the will names you as executor of the estate, important documents may easily contain information the family would prefer to keep private. If a family member has the will, he may file it with the probate court himself, or may give it to the executor to file with the court, according to FindLaw.

    Step 4

    Think outside the box. Many people choose to store their wills in unusual places. For instance, the U.S. Department of Defense recommends that families store their wills in a waterproof bag in the freezer if they do not have a fire safe or safe deposit box. Although a freezer is not usually locked, the insulating construction of a refrigerator or freezer can withstand fire and other natural disasters, which make it a relatively safe place to keep a will, according to the Department of Defense.

    About the Author

    A.L. Kennedy is a professional grant writer and nonprofit consultant. She has been writing and editing for various nonfiction publications since 2004. Her work includes various articles on nonprofit law, human resources, health and fitness for both print and online publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Alabama.

    Photo Credits

    • Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images