A well-written will helps secure your legacy for future generations. But these legal documents are only useful if they’re in the right hands at the right time. Surprisingly, the problem of a lost will comes up more often than you might think. Sometimes families just don’t communicate the whereabouts (or even existence) of a will—after all, death isn’t exactly a favorite topic of conversation. Or a will can be lost for other reasons. Maybe the attorney is no longer in practice. Or perhaps the document was destroyed accidentally in a house flood or fire. No matter the circumstance, finding a lost will is important for ensuring your loved one’s legacy is honored.
Finding yourself in the situation of searching for a lost will is no fun. Chances are you’re already grieving and this is just one more thing to deal with. So what do you do? It’s time to do a little detective work.
- Search the home or office of your loved one. Look for common areas where paperwork might be stashed like desks, filing cabinets, fire safes, folders, accordion files, and other nooks and crannies. Wills have even known to turn up in unusual spots like under the mattress or floorboards or in dresser drawers. Keep your eyes open for any official-looking paperwork or legal letterhead.
- Check for a safe deposit box. While searching, be on the lookout for any small keys that may belong to a safe deposit box. It may have the bank’s name or logo on it, or simply an identification number. If you’re unsure if your loved one had a safe deposit box, it’s best to contact their bank. Most banks have procedures for giving family members access in these cases.
- Call the attorney who wrote the will. If you know of the attorney involved, you can contact them directly to secure a copy of the will. Not sure who wrote the will? Sift through any legal documents you can find and start with those attorneys. If you can’t find any legal paperwork around, you can check address books or phone contacts for lawyers. If that fails, try your loved one’s financial planner or accountant to see if they might know of any associated attorneys.
- Look for digital connections. If you have access to your loved one’s electronic devices, do an email, text, or even social media search for attorneys. If you find one they’ve communicated with, you might have just found the path to the missing will.
- Ask around. Just because your loved one didn’t talk to you about their will doesn’t mean they didn’t chat about it with someone else. Contact close friends, other family members, or possible beneficiaries to see if they may have been provided a copy.
- Search computer files. With more documents going digital, many people receive scanned copies of their will. Start with a broad search on the hard drive or any digital storage devices for words like “will,” “estate plan,” or even “death.”
- Conduct a case search. Although unusual, sometimes wills are already filed with the court by someone else. Contact your local probate court to see if the will has already been found and an estate opened.
As the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine. Whether you’re the one with the will or you’re the child of aging parents, commit to having that tough talk about end-of-life decisions. The precise contents of the will don’t need to be discussed, but it’s important that family members have at least some basic information. For example, make sure the will’s location is communicated. Whether it’s stored in a fireproof safe at home or a safe deposit box at the bank, tell your loved ones where it can be found. It’s important to share attorney information as well, including the firm and attorney name, as well as contact information. You can also record your will with the US Will Registry, which allows your information to be found through an online database.
End-of-life decisions are undoubtedly hard to talk about, but it’s important to be clear and upfront about your decisions with close loved ones to avoid future hardship. If you’re struggling to locate a will or other legacy issues, reaching out to a trusted attorney can help. At BB&C, we not only handle wills and trusts, but we tackle all aspects of estate planning and management. Contact Abigayle Hensley at 765-637-9172.
The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is advertising material and is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your situation.