A loved one has recently passed and you're trying to pick up the pieces. The funeral arrangements have been made, the burial time and date is set, the death certificates will be delivered in a week or two. You start looking into the probate process and see that the original will must be submitted to the Clerk of Court to begin the probate process. But where is the will? He never mentioned having one or where he kept it. He was a pretty organized and prepared guy, so you can't imagine he didn't have a will prepared. Where do you begin? Here are a few tips for locating the lost will:
1. Check with the Court
It's possible that someone else he was close to was named the executor in his will and that the original will was already submitted for probate. He could have also filed the original will with the Clerk for safekeeping after it was drafted.
2. Check for a Safe Deposit Box
It's common for people who own a safe deposit box to keep their important papers there, including their will and ancillary estate planning documents. If you know where he did his banking, schedule an appointment with the branch manager to determine if he had a safe deposit box. If he did, there's a legal way for you to apply for access to the box for the purpose of determining if a will is there.
3. Review Bank Statements
You're looking for checks or payments made to an estate planning attorney. Once you determine if a payment was made, call to check if he was a client of that attorney for estate planning purposes. The attorney may not be able to discuss the matter with you if you're not the executor named in the will, but it will surely put the attorney on notice of the person's death and will prompt them to get in touch with the executor named in the will.
4. Check with Financial Professionals
If your loved one had a CPA or financial advisor, it's likely that they would know whether a will exists and they may have a signed copy of it as well. It's common for estate planning attorneys to work with the client's financial professionals when creating an estate plan in order to keep all interested professionals "in the loop".
5. Ask Relatives and Friends
Usually people don't keep estate planning secret, and it's not uncommon for people to give copies of their estate planning documents to their loved ones that are specifically named in those documents. They should know, at least, whether or not a will exists.
If you're stuck and can't figure out where the will is, or if it even exists, it may require you to proceed with the estate administration as if a will does not exist. Be sure to exhaust all available options before proceeding without the will, and contact an attorney to assist as needed.