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.

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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.

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Where to Get the Last Will & Testament of a Relative



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Sometimes a testator neglects to tell her loved ones or the will's executor where to find her will in the event of her death. This can leave heirs and beneficiaries in a difficult position at a time when they are already grieving. Some states, like Texas, have provisions written into their statutes to address the issue of being unable to locate a will. Even then, the outcome may depend on whether or not you’ve been able to find a copy or if no indication of the testator’s last wishes exists at all.

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Wills not only provide information about heirs and inheritance, but also help those tracing family history or establishing a chain of property ownership. Prior to a testator's death, his will is a private document and you "find" it only with his permission. The court does not open wills of a living person to public review even if the testator filed them with the court for safe keeping. From the date the court accepts a will for probate, however, the will becomes part of the court file and accessible to the public. The more recent the probate, the easier the will to locate.

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