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How to Find Out if a Will Exists & How to Get a Copy (2022)

Written by, Marija Petkova

Updated July, 1, 2022

When someone passes away, it is crucial to find out if a will exists and if so, where it is kept. 

A will can help sort out some of the financial uncertainties surrounding a person’s death as well as help you get their affairs in order.

However, getting a copy of someone’s will may not be as straightforward as one might think.

This article will give you some advice on how to find out if a will exists as well as where to look for one. 

Why Is Finding Someone’s Last Will and Testament Important?

A will is a legal document that dictates how a person’s estate should be distributed after they die. It typically contains the names of the executors, i.e. the people or person with the legal responsibility to deal with the estate, as well as the names of the beneficiaries and specific instructions on how each beneficiary should receive their inheritance. 

Typically, the executor of the will will need to apply for probate and to do that they will need an original copy of the will

A grant of probate is a legal document that gives the executor of a will authority to deal with the deceased person’s estate. This includes paying off any debts and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. 

Further reading: 

Where to Start Searching for a Will?

When it comes to finding someone’s will there are a few places where you could search. 

1. The deceased’s home

It may seem like the most obvious place, but if a person has made a will during their lifetime, it should be among their important papers. A safe in the person’s house, locked drawers or cupboards in the study would be some of the places to start searching for a will. 

If you cannot find the will or a copy, you should be on the lookout for other important papers, such as a certificate of deposit, which is what a person would receive if they had made arrangements for their will to be kept by the Principal Registry of the Family Division.

2. The deceased person’s solicitors 

If the deceased used a solicitor or other professional to draw up their will, they may have stored the document for them. If you are not certain which solicitor the deceased used, you could ring up several located in the area where they lived. 

Keep in mind that only the executor can get a copy of a will from a solicitor.

3. The deceased person’s bank

Although keeping your will at the bank is not advisable, sometimes people store important papers there, such as wills or property deeds. If you are the executor of the will you could contact the deceased’s bank and ask if they have a copy and if so, you can request it from them. 

There are certain limitations when carrying out a will search in the UK through a bank. The bank might not provide you with this information unless you are the executor or they might not release the will until probate has been granted.  

4. Carry out a will search

You could try tracing a will through certain commercial organisations used by solicitors, will drafters and individuals to register wills

Among these, Certainty the National Will Register is the oldest, biggest and most reputable, so when it comes to finding a will in the UK, they might be the best place to start. Certainty runs a search of registered and non-registered wills and they can also get in touch with solicitors in the area where the deceased lived to check if they hold a copy of the will.

Typically you would have to provide details about the deceased, your details and the reason why you are carrying out a will search. 

Bear in mind that these organisations charge a fee for using their services that could go up to £114, but provide no guarantee that you will be able to find a will or see its contents (unless you are the executor or you have been granted power of attorney by the testator). 

5. Contact the Probate Registry (England and Wales) 

You could also carry out a will search with your local Probate Registry and see if they are holding the will in their storage facility. 

Note that the procedure for finding a will in the rest of the UK differs. 

What Happens if You Can’t Find a Will?

If you have exhausted all the options and a will still cannot be found, then it’s possible that the deceased person didn’t have one. This is known as dying intestate

In this case, the estate will be distributed under intestacy law. If you live in England or Wales, the next of kin will be appointed as administrator of the estate. The husband, wife or civil partner will inherit assets up to £270,000, personal possessions, and half of the remaining estate, while the other half will be divided among the deceased’s surviving children. 

Note: Intestacy rules differ in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Obtaining a Copy of a Will After Probate Has Been Granted

Before probate is granted, only the executor of the Will is entitled to see its contents. However, once probate is issued, any member of the public can request a copy of the will. 

Probate records in England and Wales are stored online and can be accessed for a fee of £1.50. 

You can search the database on the official government website or apply by post. You will then receive a copy of a probate record and the will if there is one.  

It is advisable to wait a while after the person has died as probate might not have been issued. 

If you need to find the will of a person who has died recently, you could apply for a standing search. This means that the Probate Service will check their records for a grant of probate in the last 12 months and continue to check for six months after that. A standing service costs £3 and can be extended after six months.

Where to Keep a Will

How to ensure that your own will is easy to find and save others the trouble of having to carry out a will search?

Once a will has been written and signed, it should be kept in a safe location along with other personal documents. Alternatively, you could store it with your solicitor or bank for safekeeping, or register it with one of the will registration providers in the UK, although this is optional. 

The important thing is to inform your family or friends that you have made a will. You don’t have to tell the executors or beneficiaries of the will anything about the contents of the document itself, but letting them know that you have written a will and that it is stored in a safe place will be of immense help to them as they sort through your finances. 

Final Words

Coping with the loss of a loved one is never easy, but the sooner you start dealing with their financial affairs the better. 

That’s why one of the first things to do is find out if the deceased left a will. Getting a copy of a will imay not speed up the settling of the estate, but it will let you know if you are a beneficiary or if the estate has enough money left to cover any outstanding debt. 

                           

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

Can anyone see a will after probate?

Yes, after probate has been granted the will becomes a public document and anyone can request a copy from the Probate Registry even if they are not related to the deceased or the estate in question. 

If you are named in a will do you get a copy?

If you are a beneficiary of a will, it is the legal responsibility of the executor of the estate to notify you of your entitlement. This typically happens shortly after the person has passed away. 

Before probate is granted, only the executor of the will is allowed to see the will and its contents. 

How long after death is a will read in the UK?

There is no official will reading in the UK, rather the executor of the will decides when and how to notify the beneficiaries of their entitlement. 

How long is a will valid after death?

A will can be valid indefinitely, although in the UK you have about 6 months to contest a will. It usually takes about 6 to 12 months for a Grant of Probate to be issued, whether or not a will exists.

How to find out if a will exists for free?

The easiest way to find out if a will exists is to search the deceased’s home or contact their solicitor and/or bank. If you are not successful, then you could try using the services of a company like Certainty that will run a will search through their database for a certain fee. 

My name is Marija, and I'm a financial writer at DontDisappointMe. Although finance might not be everyone's cup of tea, my 10+ years of working in one of the biggest banks in my country, and my interest in extensive research on everything finance/investment-related, have made me somewhat of an expert in the field (if I do say so myself). No longer having the passion to work in a corporate setting, I decided that I couldn't let all of this knowledge go to waste so I started writing. And, here I am! Today I try to share my knowledge with my audience in the hopes of making this topic as simple and interesting as possible. In my leisure time, I like spending time with my family and travelling to new locations.