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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Where to Record a Last Will & Testament

Wills that are recorded become a matter of public record, which makes them easier to find when the time comes to use them. Although wills do not have to be recorded, the advantages of always knowing that they are stored on file, ready to use, can outweigh the disadvantage of anyone being able to access them.

How to Find a Last Will & Testament of a Person

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.

What Can One Do if a Will Is Missing & the Lawyer Who Drafted the Will Isn't Practicing?

If your loved one left his last will and testament with his attorney for safekeeping, the attorney can’t toss the will into a trash bin when he decides to retire or close his office. Not only do the laws in most states prohibit this, lawyers have an ethical responsibility to safeguard their clients’ documents. However, this might not do you much good if you can’t find the attorney to ask where he placed the will. You'll have to do a bit of detective work instead.

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