Where Do I Find Someone's Last Will & Testament?

By A.L. Kennedy

The original of a last will and testament should be filed with the probate court once its owner passes away. However, sometimes you may not know right away where this document is located, and will therefore need to search for the deceased person's last will and testament. Knowing some commonly used places where someone's last will and testament may be stored at may make the search easier.

Safe Deposit Box

The Federal Emergency Management Association recommends keeping your last will and testament -- along with your living will and other essential documents -- in a safe deposit box so that it will not be destroyed in a household emergency. Before opening a safe deposit box, however, check with an attorney in your state to ensure that those you leave behind will be able to access your safe deposit box when you are gone.

Attorney's Office

Attorneys who prepare last wills as a part of their practice often keep a copy of the last will and testament in their files. Although the copy is often not signed and cannot be admitted to probate, it may include a note about where to find the original, which can be filed with the probate court. Likewise, the deceased person's attorney may be able to tell you where the original will is located.

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Probate Court

Some states allow residents to file their wills with the probate court for safekeeping. When a living person files her will with the court, the court does not open a probate estate but merely keeps the will, usually in a sealed envelope or filing cabinet, until the court receives notice that the person has died. Contact the probate court in the jurisdiction where the deceased resided to find out whether or not it has the person's will on file.

With Household Documents

Many people store their last wills along with other important documents in their homes. A fire safe is a logical place to look for a last will and testament, as is a standard household safe. You may even find the will filed in a file cabinet or other place where it is vulnerable to damage. Finally, some people use their freezers or refrigerators as impromptu fire safes. Most refrigerator units are sufficiently insulated to survive a fire, and they do not usually attract thieves in the way a regular safe may.

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Where Are Wills Kept?



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How to Read a Last Will & Testament After a Death

TV shows sometimes include scenes in which an attorney for a recently deceased millionaire reads the will to the assembled relatives, causing shock and astonishment. However, no American jurisdiction requires a public will reading. Most people read a will at the court clerk's office. After a testator dies, the probate court reviews his will for validity and supervises its administration until the executor distributes estate property to the heirs. This is termed probate. Anyone can read or copy the will at the courthouse during and after probate.

Who Should Keep Your Last Will?

The most important thing about where you place the original copy of your will is not necessarily the location, but who knows it is there. You might not want to tell your beneficiaries and allow them to have access to it before your death, but someone will need to lay his hands on it quickly when you pass away. The location should be reasonable, accessible and, above all, known to whoever you choose as your executor.

What do You Do if You Can't Find a Will for a Deceased Relative?

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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