How do you find the original will after someone dies? We’ll cover where to search, how to get access, and what happens if you can’t find the original.
Did the attorney keep the original will?
It is common for an attorney to hold the original will. If you have a copy of the will, the lawyer’s name is usually written on it. You can look for the name on the backer, or maybe he was a witness or the notary.
If you don’t have a copy, check the decedent’s contacts app or rolodex for any attorneys. Don’t overlook the attorneys who don’t do estate planning; you never know what leads you will get. You can also ask the decedent’s CPA or others who may have referred the decedent to an estate planning attorney. Eventually, one of these contacts should lead to the attorney who holds the original will.
New York petition to search the home
If you determine that the will must be in the decedent’s home, you need a court order to enter the home. Thankfully, court is pretty quick in issuing this kind of order, unless the will is contested. Typically, it shouldn’t take longer than a couple weeks to get the order.
When you enter the building, you must be accompanied by a police officer or building management. The reason is that an order to search the home is different than acting with full executor powers. You will be limited to searching for documents such as the will, life insurance policies, funeral arrangements, etc. If you find the documents, you must immediately turn them over to the court.
The procedure for searching a safe deposit box or a storage unit is substantially the same. To enter a safe deposit box, you’ll be accompanied by the bank officer. It’s better for everyone involved that there are witnesses. You don’t want to be accused of anything.
What happens if the original of a will is lost?
If can prove that the will was not in the decedent’s possession when she passed, then it is possible to ask court to probate the copy. Perhaps the attorney or the CPA says they had it at the time of her passing.
However, if the decedent must have had the will, the law assumes that the decedent intentionally destroyed/revoked the will. This is the legal assumption, even if it’s not what really happened. In this case, you must move on with administration, which is the process in which the default inheritance laws are applied.
So, do your best to find the will!
If you are young and you have a will, it may not help to tell your executor where it is; you could live for many more decades. But, if you are older or terminally ill, it is a good idea to let your executor know where to find your will when you pass.
To learn more, check out my book, “How to Hire an Executor,” available on Amazon.
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