How to Find a Last Will & Testament of a Person

By Brian Richards

When an individual dies, he leaves behind an estate containing all of the property he owned at the time of his death. The estate goes through a court process called probate in which a judge distributes the estate’s assets according to the individual’s wishes contained in a last will and testament, or according to the state’s intestacy laws if no will exists. Finding a will can sometimes be difficult, however, and the court will not honor the deceased’s wishes unless a copy of the will is submitted to the judge.

Step 1

Look through the personal belongings of the deceased. A will could be located in a safe or filing cabinet. Look for any other end-of-life planning documents such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts or paperwork concerning any financial account with a named beneficiary as wills are commonly stored alongside these documents.

Step 2

Ask close friends and family members of the deceased if any have copies of the will. Individuals will often leave a copy with their chosen personal representative, who is the person responsible for managing the estate during probate. The personal representative is often a close friend or family member, so these people may have information about the location of the will.

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Step 3

Check any safety deposit boxes owned by the deceased. The banks that maintained the individual’s finances will be able to help you access a box if one exists. Be prepared to show proof that you have authorization to access the box, which may include a court order, death certificate, written permission or a number of other requirements set by the institution.

Step 4

Ask any attorney you know may have worked with the individual to prepare her will. Many attorneys will keep copies of their clients’ wills. If you don’t know of any specific lawyer, contact your state’s bar association to ask about publishing a notice in the state’s bar journal. Many attorneys in the state read the bar journals, and notes about missing wills are common.

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How to Find a Will Left by a Deceased Relative
 

References

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How to Find Out if a Will Was Filed

Locating a filed will of a deceased person is often the first step for probate, the legal proceeding used to settle an estate and distribute assets to heirs. The person filing a petition for probate needs to locate the original will of the deceased person in order to move forward in court. A will may have been filed for safekeeping by the deceased person while he was still alive. If you cannot locate a will for your departed loved one, checking the local courts may help you find the document.

How Can I Get a Copy of a Will?

TV shows often portray a lawyer reading the last will and testament to the assembled family. In real life, you usually have to track down a copy of the will yourself. It is easier to get a copy of a will once the maker is dead. You can only see the will of a living person if she agrees to show it you. Once the maker is deceased, however, the will is generally filed with the court for probate. Like most court documents, the vast majority of probated wills are available for public viewing and copying.

How to Find Lost Inheritance Money

Just because a loved one leaves assets to you in his will, that does not guarantee that you will immediately receive those assets. If the probate court cannot locate you following your family member's death, it will turn the unclaimed funds over to a holding office regulated by the state. While some state agencies, such as West Virginia's treasury department, make an effort to locate the rightful owners of unclaimed property, not all agencies are as thorough. If you suspect that a deceased relative may have left you an inheritance, targeted sleuthing helps you uncover and claim the missing funds.

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