Wills and Probate
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How to Find a Will for Deceased Family Members
Losing a family member is stressful, and the deceased person's will is likely the last thing on your mind. Even so, it is important to begin dealing with the estate as soon as possible. Your first step is to file the will with the probate court. Unfortunately, all too often people die without telling anyone where to find that important document.
Common Places to Look for a Will
People tend to be pretty consistent in how they handle important papers. Consider what you know about your family member's habits. Did he like to keep important documents easily accessible? Did she have a favorite hiding spot?
Here are some of the more common places people store wills:
- The office: A fire-resistant safe, filing cabinet, or locked desk drawer are all good places to look, especially if your loved one was well-organized.
- Safe deposit box: Unfortunately, some states seal safe deposit boxes when the holder is deceased. If you have reason to believe your family member's will is in a safe deposit box, you may be able to get an order from the probate court to open it.
- Your family member's lawyer: If a lawyer helped draft the will, that lawyer may also have the original document, or at least a copy.
- Computer: Since many wills are now created on a computer, you might be able to find a digital copy. It obviously will not be the original, but can still help prove the existence of a will.
The back of a drawer, pantry, or closet are also good places to look. If you have checked all the obvious places, try asking other family members for ideas. Your loved one may have confided in one of them.
Uncommon Places to Look for a Will
Not everyone uses the same logic when storing something for safe-keeping. Places that seem odd to you might have made perfect sense your your family member.
- The freezer: Believe it or not, people do store papers in the freezer, sealed in plastic bags.
- Under floorboards: This does not happen only in the movies.
- Probate court: Some states allow people to file their wills while still alive. It is not common, but it is worth a try if you are running out of options. Check with the courts where the person died and where he or she lived previously.
Sometimes you just never find the will. Even so, you may be able to prove its existence if you have other items. For example, you may have found a codicil making changes to the will or a list of property items and names. Witnesses to the will's signing can also help.