5 Ways To Find Out If Someone Has A Will
What Are The Five Ways To Find Out If Someone Left a Will Behind?
The search to determine whether someone had a will begins with the death of a loved one. Whether someone had a will plays a major role in how the property of the deceased is to be distributed. There is no single method that is always successful in trying to find a will. Some of the methods that have proved effective include the following:
1. Check with the Deceased’s Lawyer
If you know the name of the attorney the deceased typically used, or used in the specific instance of creating a will, contact them. Typically, when a lawyer prepares a will or trust and any other estate planning device, they give the original to the client and retain a copy in their office. You can call the lawyer and request a copy of the will. If you are named the executor in the will, then the lawyer should happily provide you with a copy. You can then submit the copy to Surrogate’s Court to probate the will. You may have a difficult time seeing the will if someone else is nominated executor. But at the very least, the lawyer should be able to confirm whether he has a copy of the will.
2. Visit Surrogate’s Court
The deceased or the lawyer who drafted the will may have filed the will with the Surrogate’s Court. If the will was in fact filed, then it would be filed in the county where the decedent had his primary residence or in the county where he owned assets. For example, if the deceased lived in New York City and owned real estate in Brooklyn, then you would check with the Surrogate’s Court in New York County and Kings County. The will be a public record, and you will be able to review the document and print copies and submit it to probate.
During the pandemic, it’s best to call the Cashier Department or the Record Room for details on visiting hours and whether they can conduct a quick search over the phone.
During normal business hours, you can:
- Visit the Record Room
- Type in the decedent’s name in the computer
- View the results
- Read the will on the computer screen
- Print out the will.
3. Contact Friends and Family of the Decedent
If the decedent had someone close in his life, other than you, then that person was most likely named the executor in the will. The executor is a person who is in charge of administering the estate of the decedent by selling assets and distributing funds to the beneficiaries. The executor typically has the original will or knows where to find it.
Upon the decedent’s passing, it is the executor’s duty to probate the will. Ask friends and relatives of decedent if they have a copy of the will.
4. Search Safe Deposit Box of the Decedent
This method can be challenging. If you are sure that the decedent had a safety deposit box, then you can get a court order from the Surrogate’s Court to gain access to the box to determine whether it contains a will. Unless you know that a box exists and where, it is nearly impossible to obtain this information. Banks will not provide any information over the phone or in person to someone other than the account holder unless you are the court appointed representative of the estate. If you have access to the decedent’s residence, a good practice would be to see if he has any statements for the safety deposit box. Be aware that statements for a safety deposit box usually come only once a year, or the decedent may have signed up for online banking or automatic withdrawal.
5. Search the Residence of the Decedent
As for the most obvious, search the residence and place of business of the decedent. Make sure to also check any and all vehicles the decedent owned including mobile homes, and boats. He may have saved a copy on his computer or it’s in an email.
Bonus Tip: Contact Local Law Firms
If there was no family lawyer or someone that the decedent frequently used, it may be good practice to contact local estate lawyers in the decedent’s home zip code or area to see if anyone assisted him with making a will. The person who answers the phone at a law firm can usually look up the decedent’s name in their database to see if he was a client of theirs. Make sure to not exclude legal document preparation offices from your search, such as We The People.
What If You Can’t Find a Will?
If these methods prove unsuccessful, then it’s likely that the decedent never created a will or destroyed it. This may have happened sometime before he or she died. If no will can be found, it is wise to contact an estate attorney to determine how to move forward with opening an estate or ascertain whether you have any inheritance rights.
Update as of March 2021: As you can see, locating a will can be a chaotic and very stressful process. It should serve as a warning to all of us to organize better. Your nominated executor should know that you have a will, receive a copy of it, and know where to find the original. Hiding the will in a safety deposit box creates a burden and an expense on the estate because a lawyer must be hired for a court order just so the will can be retrieved. It’s advisable to avoid the safety deposit box for will-keeping, and opt for easily accessible places instead.
Should you have any questions or need legal representation, please contact us at (646) 233-0826. We represent individuals and families in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens
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