I always recommend that my clients keep their original wills (and other important documents) in a fireproof box in their house, and that they let some family members know where the documents are located, and where the key is (or what the combination is) if the box is locked. This is so that when the time comes to probate the Will, which could be 20+ years from now, the original can be located.
I sometimes have people contacting me about their parent who has recently passed away and they can't find the Will, which they think was drafted many years ago. These are the suggestions I give them about how and where to start looking:
- Go through any papers you can find in file cabinets, desk drawers and the tackle box in the back of the closet. If you don't find the Will, be on the look out for a letter or business card from an attorney.
- If you find communications from an attorney, contact that person and ask if they have the original or a copy of the Will, or if they drafted one. If the attorney has retired, you can contact the Board of Bar Overseers to get their contact information.
- If you can't find any information about an attorney, contact any other advisers that the person used. The financial planner or accountant may know the attorney used by the decedent.
- Check with their bank (or banks, if they used multiple institutions). The person may have put the Will in a safe deposit box. There are certain steps you'll need to follow to obtain access to the box to find out if there is a Will, and the banker can assist you with this.
- If you have a vague recollection of your parent mentioning a Will being done by some attorney in a certain town but you can't remember the name of the attorney, you could use your telephone book or internet and just start calling attorneys in that town to see if they drafted a Will for your parent. You could also place a "Lost Will" ad in the local paper.
- Check with the Probate Court in the county where you parent resided. It is possible, although not common these days, that the Will was filed with the Court when it was executed.
For any of these inquiries, the banks, courts or other attorneys will need a certified copy of the person's death certificate, so be sure to have a few of those handy.
If you still can't find the Will, your next step should be to contact an attorney to determine how the estate will be settled without a Will.