How to Find a Registered Will

By Tom Streissguth
Couple meeting with a lawyer

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Preparing a will to dispose of your property after your death can bring peace of mind. However, for the will to be held valid under the law, it must be presented to and confirmed by a probate court. For that reason, the personal representative you appoint to carry out your instructions must have access to the will and know its whereabouts. Registering a will with the probate court accomplishes this, if it is an option in your state.

Problems of Intestacy

Anyone who dies without a will dies "intestate." When this happens, the laws of the state, and a probate court proceeding, will decide where the assets of the deceased will go. When there is a will and the beneficiaries or personal representative named in the will can testify to that fact, it has to be produced in order to be enforced. Simply storing a will in a file folder, home safe or locker does not guarantee it will be found; in addition, attorneys have been known to lose important paperwork. The answer, for many people, is to register the will.

Registering a Will

To register a will, you simply present a notice of the will's whereabouts to the court with jurisdiction over probate matters in your place of residence. If you move out of the county or state, you can re-register the will with a new court. The clerk will create a registry -- a record of the will's location. This can be a safe-deposit box, an attorney's office, or a desk in your home. Not all courts will accept wills for registry; the City of Philadelphia, for example, only registers a will when a personal representative presents it for probate after the testator's death. The State of Maryland, however, has a Register of Wills office; as of 2014 the agency charged a $5.00 fee to keep a copy of a will.

Finding a Registered Will

Locating a registered will after the testator's death is a matter for the executor or beneficiaries. The probate court has no involvement in the matter until the will is presented for probate. If the will has been registered with the court, your representative must apply to the clerk of court for the information on its whereabouts. If you have deposited a copy of a will with an official registry, you must give instructions in advance on who may access the will.

Commercial Providers

It is also possible to register a will with a provider who performs registration as a service. Many such providers are online, and take the registry information through a simple form, and for a small fee. Beneficiaries and personal representatives can then search the registry for location information when necessary. The personal representative should be notified at all times of the will's whereabouts, and of any changes or codicils to the will.

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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