How to find a Last Will & Testament on death- many fail to take proper precautions
How to Find a Will: there are lots of ways to try to find a lost or mislaid Last Will and testament document which is not where you would expect it to be. And therefore avoid having to work with the Rules of Intestacy to decide who inherits. This page is a guest page written by the folk at Will Custodian Ltd. They specialise in making sure your Last Will and Testament and other legal planning don’t get lost. They also help you keep up to date on changes in tax, the law, and family circumstances. Without that knowledge, you might not realise you need advice, which is part of the package their Peace of Mind Service offers for a couple of pounds or so a month. (See also how to find a copy that has been through Probate and Disputing one on the relevant pages). Why not Contact Us for more information? – What to do when someone dies?
Will Custodians Guide: How to find a Will:
- Where you are unable to find the original, it may be possible to use a copy to get probate, but only if it is provable to the Registrars satisfaction that it was current and had not been deliberately destroyed. Not easy, but the person who wrote it normally has a copy if you can find them. But there is no guarantee that a copy may prove acceptable.
Where to Find a Lost Will:
Do bear in mind that it is a signed and witnessed original Last Will and testament you need to find, or the chances are that the estate will have to be distributed under the Rules of Intestacy.
Most people sadly store these crucial documents at home, so a meticulous search of all paperwork is needed. Where the precaution of safe storage has been taken up, most providers just send a one-page letter confirming receipt and you’ll never hear from them again. So if that letter is lost…
Under the Will Custodian system, there is a copy for the person document whose it is, plus laminated storage certificates (hard to lose!) for them AND their executors. On top of that, there is an annual newsletter and checklist sent out, and a monthly or annual direct debit. So if we are storing it, you won’t be reading this page. Is your Legal Planning secure? Look at the bank statements to see if anyone is being paid for storage, and check with the bank/s to see if there is a safe deposit box. Some people keep such vital documents at home in inexpensive home safes, but these do get very hot inside if there is a fire, so there is a danger that they could be incinerated. Need to register a death? Click here!
Who to ask when trying to find a lost Will:
We’ve tried to put this in some sort of logical order:
- Is there a regular solicitor or Will Writer they were in touch with? Look for letters or business cards. Their financial adviser may know.
- Ask the Secretary of the Local Law Society if they would kindly email their local members if they have information regarding the lost Will – they will need the full name, date of birth and addresses the person has lived at – plus any other names they may be known by (find the birth certificate – people often don’t use their legal names.)
- The Principal Probate Registry stores some: you have to write to them with an original death certificate: they don’t give information on the phone. Address: Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 7th Floor, 42-49 High Holborn, Holborn. London WC1V 6NP. If it is stored with them, there should be a Certificate with the relevant number on it, but it is just a flimsy piece of paper, easily lost. The PA7A is the form used to retrieve documents stored by the Principal Probate Registry.
- The Society of Will Writers stores a large number of documents for current and past members as well as for solicitors etc who have retired, ask for the Custody Department (best to use their email enquiry form). If you ask, they will often circulate members in the relevant region.
- The Solicitors Regulation Authority store tens of thousands of Last Wills etc where the solicitor has gone out of business. We are told that they are very behind with cataloguing, sadly.
- Speak to friends and family.
- Check bank statements for storage or Will writing fees.
- There are a number of initiatives trying to pull together storage data, but they are all operated on a commercial basis, so they will cost you money – we’ve listed what we believe to be the most comprehensive one below.
- www.certainty.co.uk – but they do charge for a search to attempt to locate a missing Last Will and testament with no guarantee of success.
- Need to register a death? Click here to find out more!
Lost Will – How to find a Will that is proving elusive
Looking for a lost Last Will? Probably the first port of call to contact to find Will is the Custody Department of the Principal Probate Registry. We have a few more tips below, and we have asked Will Custodian Ltd to contribute a page on how to find a lost Will. If it is stored with them, it won’t be lost, but their guidance is invaluable. (Back to what to do after a death.)
Who Wrote the Lost Will?
It is possible that the Society of Will Writers may able to help, though not all Will Writers are regulated by them. To ask them about a lost will, contact their Custody Department. But:
Most Lost Wills are written by solicitors.
Not because they are careless, but because they outnumber Will Writers by 20 to 1! You may want to ask a local law firm who is the Secretary of the Local Law Society: they will usually circulate all the local solicitors for you about your lost Will.
However, if the solicitor is no longer in business, the Solicitors Regulation Authority may hold records for firms and individual solicitors. Sometimes the SRA will actually hold the lost Will, other times they can advise you who has taken over the firm who originally wrote it. Of course, they may have no record, so local solicitors may just know who took over.
The information that they would require from a customer would be:
- The name of the firm of solicitors used
- The name of the individual solicitor they dealt with (although this is not always necessary).
- If searching further back than 1993, the year in which the Will was made so they can search in the appropriate written records.
When a firm moves, closes or amalgamates into another, they usually hold information of who the successor firm would be, or if no successor firm is appointed, they usually hold details of the location of where files may be held.
In the event that they do not hold information of a successor firm, or if they do not hold a location of files, they would search for solicitors who were at the firm at the time of closure who may still be contactable. If they are still practicing, they would provide the customer with their current practicing details so they could speak with the individual directly.
However, if the individual is not practicing, but the Solicitors Registration Authority holds a personal home address, they would offer the customer a forward-on service. The SRA would forward a letter, requesting files only, on the customers’ behalf using the following procedure:
1. Write a letter for the attention of the solicitor, explaining that they wish to retrieve specific files or documents from them, ensuring that they include their name and contact details on this letter so that the solicitor can contact them directly.
2. Send the request with a covering letter or email to the SRA requesting that we forward the letter to the private address held on our records.
For further guidance from the Solicitors Regulation Authority about a lost will, 01527 504450. They open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: 8.30 am to 5 pm, Tuesday: 9.30am to 5 pm. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Find a Will:
Advertising may help
Advertising in the local press or in The Gazette (notice code 2902) reaches a significant audience and increases the prospect of the last will being found. Quoting former names or maiden names of a testator, in case that reveals a will which just might lead to further information.
Contact the doctor
Contacting the deceased’s doctor to see if anyone is noted as being the testator’s attorney or deputy who might be able to help.
A copy of the will may be enough.
Normally, it is necessary for the original will to be sent to the probate registry, along with the application for the grant of representation. However, in some circumstances, the Registry may accept a copy, providing that there is no evidence to suggest that it is has been revoked (canceled) by the deceased.
If it is suspected to be lost Will rather than having been revoked (canceled), and there is clear evidence remaining that proves the testator’s wishes, an application can be made to the court for this to be proved in place of the original will. The procedure for this order is set out in rule 54 of the Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987.
The application must be made by the person who is applying for the grant of probate, which is often the executor named in the document in question. This must be supported with sworn a statement of evidence with all relevant documentation. This evidence should broadly include:
1. The circumstances in which the original will appears lost, including where the will was last seen.
2. The attempts and searches that the executors have undertaken to locate it.
3. Details of anyone who would benefit from the estate if the evidence of the will was not proved. This is primarily focused on parties who would benefit if the deceased died intestate, but either not at all or not as greatly than if the evidence was proved. If those parties do not consent to proving the will based on the evidence submitted, the matter can be referred to the High Court for a ruling.
We have professional contacts who can help you with the process of applying for probate with a copy.
To Find Details of a Will, You Should Either:
- Find details of a Will online. Best route where you believe probate has already been granted, especially if others are closed.
- Go to the Principal Registry of the Family Division in London which has a complete set of details of probated Wills. You must take with you the full name of the deceased, last permanent address and date of death.
- You should also find out if the deceased was known by any other names and whether the name on the death certificate differs from the full name. You should search for an entry in these names as well. It may also prove beneficial to search a range of dates for the date of death as this is the only way of ensuring you have the best chance to find the details you require.
- If you find an entry in the Probate Registry records for the deceased, you are charged the fee mentioned on the form for a copy of the will and grant.
- Or complete form PA1S and send it and the fee (detailed on the form) to:
The Postal Searches and Copies Department
Leeds LS1 2BA.
- If you can’t complete the form you can also write to the Postal Searches and Copies Department to find details of a Will. Include as much information as possible including the full name of the deceased, date of birth, last permanent address and date of death, if known plus the fee.
- The fee for a search (which includes a copy of the grant and/or will if a record is found) is payable to “HM Courts and Tribunals Service” or “HMCTS” for short. If you wish a search to be made for a period of more than 4 years, there is an extra fee for 4 years after the first 4. Full details on the form above.
You will receive the documents within 4 weeks, or confirmation that the Probate Registry has not been able to locate any documents.
Contact Us with any questions you may have!
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We hope this may help you to find a lost Will.
How to find a will