A member of your family or a dear friend has passed away unexpectedly. Do they have a Last Will and Testament? Here's how to find out if they have a Will and tips for locating it.
Ask other family members and close friends of the decedent (the person who has passed away) if s/he ever mentioned having a Last Will and Testament drawn. If yes, the most likely locations will be: the safe deposit box at the decedent' s bank, a desk in the house, or a lock box in the bedroom.
Get permission from proper authorities (i.e., family members, nursing home administration) to look for copies of important papers in the decedent' s desk or file cabinet. The Will is often located in a folder or manila envelope labeled "Important Papers." NOTE: If you locate a Power of Attorney, be sure and check with the person named in the document to see if they have knowledge of the Will' s whereabouts.
If you don't find the Will there, look for evidence of a safe deposit box: a key, a box rental payment receipt, or bank statement indicating a box rental. If you find a key, the bank personnel will require that you sign the log, and that they accompany you to perform an inventory of the safe deposit box since the owner is deceased.
If you cannot find any evidence of a safe deposit box, or if there is no Will in the safe deposit box, check the decedent' s address book or Rolodex for names and phone numbers of attorneys who may have prepared a Will. Call each of them, identify yourself, notify them of the death, and ask if they drew a Last Will and Testament for the decedent.
After following all of these steps, if you still cannot find a copy of the Last Will and Testament, odds are there isn't one to be found.
- Don't ever go into the decedent' s house without one or more members of the family. This will ensure that you are protected should anything turn up missing in the future.
- Don't destroy an original Last Will & Testament - it is a crime for anyone other than the testator (person who executed the Will) to destroy it
- Don't stop looking once you've located a copy of the Will - there may be more recent versions or amendments (called codicils) that were drawn at a later date
- If the decedent is under 30, the likelihood is that s/he did not draw a Will
- If no Will was executed, proceeds from the estate not owned by a trust (other than life insurance policies, IRAs, or joint property) will be governed by the State's Laws of Intestacy (intestacy = dying without having executed a Will)
- If you discover a copy of a Trust document, contact the attorney who drew the trust - s/he will most likely have a copy of the Will