How to Locate a Will of a Deceased Person

By Anna Assad

You must find the will of a deceased person to start probate -- the legal proceedings used to settle a person's final affairs and divide his estate. Ideally, the testator should always provide a copy of the will to his named executor, but if this wasn't done, you may need to be creative in where you start looking.

Step 1

Contact the deceased person's attorney. The attorney may have the original will for safekeeping or know if another attorney, such as an estate attorney who drafted the will for the deceased, does. Look through the deceased person's financial records and documents if you're unsure who her attorney was. Cashed checks or legal papers may identify her attorney.

Step 2

Talk to the deceased person's close family members and friends. Although they might not know where the will is, they may be able to identify places the deceased stored important documents. Check any suggested places.

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Step 3

Check around the deceased's home for a safe deposit box key. Keys vary in shape and color but typically don't have grooves. Contact the banks the deceased did business with if you find a key to see if he had a box. File a petition in the local probate court for an order to open the box.

Step 4

Visit the surrogate or probate court of all counties the deceased person owned real estate in and previously lived in. Ask the clerk to check if a will was filed by the deceased person for safekeeping.

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How to Find Out If Someone Left a Will for Probate


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Where Are Wills Kept?

When a person, known as a testator, executes a will, he usually stores it in a secure location not readily available to others. While this is good practice for avoiding theft, damage and mere curious snooping, it could permanently keep the will hidden if the testator fails to leave instructions for retrieving the document after the testator's death. If this happens, however, you likely may be able to hunt it down by checking the most common places where wills are kept.

Can an Executor Endorse the Deceased's Check?

Upon an individual’s death, it is common for those organizing the decedent’s personal effects to find uncashed checks made payable to the decedent. Also, refund checks from utility companies, insurance companies or nursing homes may arrive in the decedent’s name or name of the estate. These checks are part of the estate and are subject to the will, just as a financial account or a parcel of real property is.

How to Search for Wills Online

County courts and recording offices house many types of records, including deeds, mortgages and court proceedings. Although many of the real property or real estate records are available for viewing online, court records are often not so readily accessible. Key pieces of information regarding wills and estates may be available online in a few select counties in a few states, even though the actual wills themselves are rarely available for viewing.

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