When someone dies, there is normally a flurry of activity to deal with, not to mention much grief and upheaval. It can be easy to misplace documents that are needed to sort out probate, but what do you do if you know there is a Will somewhere, but can’t find it anywhere?
As part of the application for probate, or the sorting out of the deceased person’s worldy goods, an original Will must be provided to the probate registry. There is no central register of Wills, so the ease or otherwise of doing this will depend largely on how organised the person was when storing their Will and letting others know about it.
If you are sure that the Will hasn’t been revoked, you can contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to put you in touch with the solicitors’ firm that drew it up. If that firm is no longer practising, the SRA should be able to tell you whom the successor in title is of the original firm.
The Central Probate registry in London might also be able to help you track down missing paperwork, as they have storage facilities that could have been used to store a Will that has not been accounted for.
Or, if you believe that it was drawn up by a Will Writer rather than a solicitors’ firm, try contacting the Society of Will Writers. Failing that, a solicitor can often track down the missing documents on your behalf.
If all searches for the original Will prove fruitless, a copy can be used for probate, but only under very exceptional circumstances. A sworn affidavit must be made by the Executor of the deceased person’s estate, which will clarify, amongst other things, the circumstances leading to the Will’s loss and all attempts made to trace it.
However, if the copy of the Will differs wildly from the rules of intestacy, this can lead to family conflicts, so all attempts possible should be made to locate the original before submitting a copy.
Finally, if the original Will cannot be found, and a copy is unable to be presented to probate, or is not accepted, the person is normally declared as having died intestate. In this case, the matter becomes subject to the rules of intestacy and the inheritance is distributed according to established protocol. A solicitor will be able to talk you through your options in that case and inform you of the likely outcome of the intestacy process.
In order to prevent your own loved ones having the hassle and distress of searching for your Will when the time comes, consider placing the original document in a safe, bank vault or central storage facility. Ensure that your Executor knows where it is. You could also provide them with a copy to help them plan the process of distributing your estate, once probate has been granted.