How to Locate a Lost Will When Someone Dies

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When a person dies, he might leave a last will and testament. If the will is lost before the decedent's estate is probated, it can be found in a few ways. If the will can't be recovered, the estate is considered "intestate" and the court probates the estate. Laws vary by state, but in general the probate court first searches for spouses, then parents, then for children, and then for siblings to distribute the decedent's estate to. When a will cannot be found, most probate courts appoint an executor to settle the estate.

Look in secure locations and other places. If the decedent had a home safe or fire box, a safe-deposit box, or another residence, look for the will there. Also look at her place of business. Self-employed people might keep a copy of their will in a cabinet or some secure place. Search through areas of personal worth, such as a baseball card collection.

Speak to the attorney who wrote the will. If you know the name of the attorney and/or the law firm's name, ask the office whether it still has a copy of the will. Most law firms keep records at least five to seven years, whether or not the drafting attorney is still with the firm. Ask the attorney the name of the executor of the will if you do not know it. The executor might have a copy of the will or know its location.

Go to the probate court. Visit the probate court in the decedent's jurisdiction and ask the clerk to conduct a search for the will. Or, ask how to conduct a search of the probate court's records. Most courts charge a fee for each printed page on record, ranging from $1 to $3 per page.


  • Also ask close friends of the decedent, as well as neighbors and extended family members, whether they have a copy of the will.


  • "Wills, Probate, & Inheritance Tax For Dummies"; Julian Knight; 2008

About the Author

Owen Richason grew up working in his family's small contracting business. He later became an outplacement consultant, then a retail business consultant. Richason is a former personal finance and business writer for "Tampa Bay Business and Financier." He now writes for various publications, websites and blogs.