The death of a loved one is always a challenging time. Not knowing whether or not your loved one has a will can make that time even more difficult. But how do you find out if someone has a will?
Ideally, the answer to “how to find out if someone has a will” would be to just ask the person in question. But as we know, there are a myriad of reasons it may not be this simple. Perhaps the family member is mentally or physically incapacitaed and unable to have the discussion. Or perhaps they died suddenly, before end of life conversations could take place. Perhaps you are part of a family that just doesn’t like discussing those sorts of things. Or maybe you and the family member were estranged. Whatever the reason, an effort should be made to check if someone has a will before any decisions about an estate are made.
How Can You Find Out If Someone Has a Will?
There are some ways you can try to find out if a will exists if asking is not an option.
The first and likely easiest way to find out if your loved one had a will is to ask around. Ask other family members or close friends to whom the family member may have confided. Even if they don’t know the whereabouts of a will, they may at least know if one exists.
Call the lawyer. If your family member worked with an attorney, they should know about a will. The lawyer may not be able to disclose what the will says, but they should be able to tell you if one exists. The lawyer is also legally obligated to file the will with the county courthouse upon the writer’s death.
Look around the house. Some elderly people hide things around their house rather than using a safe or filing cabinet. Look everywhere! Check dresser drawers, between mattresses, in crawlspaces and the back of closets, even inside the freezer. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the less obvious the spot, the more likely you are to find something interesting. While you are searching, keep an eye out for business cards or correspondence from an attorney. If you can’t find a will, they may at least know if one exists.
Check safe deposit boxes. When we cleaned out my great uncle’s house a few years ago, we found a cardboard box inside a safe that had THREE safe deposit box keys in them. One of the keys we were never able to match to a bank (luckily, we had the will, and the contents and location of that particular safe deposit box remain a mystery).
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If all else fails, you can call your county’s surrogate court. Unfortunately, some counties do not allow you to file a will with the court until the author (so to speak) has passed.
How to find someone’s will after death is not easy. Considering it a treasure hunt is only going to keep you in good spirits during your search for so long. If nothing else, hopefully this article has convinced you to speak to your loved ones about their will as soon as you are able. Find out if a will exists and who is the executor. That way you will be prepared - at least when it comes to the will - when your loved one passes.