Good Will Hunting? What to do if you can't find the will after someone dies

will and testament - Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC

What to do if you can't find the will after someone dies

When a loved one dies, one of the first things you might need to do is look to see if he or she left a will. However, what do you do if you can't find the original will? Surprisingly, it is often quite difficult to locate the original will. People put important documents like wills in safe places. Unfortunately, sometimes that safe place is just too good. Here are some tips to help you find the original will or use a will copy.

1. Start at home.

The obvious place to look for the original will is in the deceased person's home. The logical place to start is a safe or fireproof box. Alternatively look where your loved one kept other important documents such as his or her taxes. Often the will can simply be found in a drawer in the desk in the study or office just tucked among other documents.

2. Search for a Safe Deposit Box.

It may seem obvious that someone would keep a will in his or her safe deposit box. However, unless your loved one told you that he or she had a box, it can be difficult to find one. Try the bank where the deceased person held a checking or savings account. Assuming that you do locate a safe deposit box, you need to find the key to open it. Even if you have the key, the bank will not simply let you open a deceased person's safe deposit box. You will need to file a petition with the probate court for an order giving you authority to open the safe deposit box. The order will direct the bank to open the safe deposit box and allow you to remove the will if it is there. You cannot take anything else out of the safe deposit box until you open the estate, however.

3. Contact The Lawyer Who Drafted The Will.

If you cannot find the original at your loved one's home or in a safe deposit box, try contacting the lawyer who originally drafted the will. Until recently, lawyers often kept original wills and gave copies to their clients. A will copy or power of attorney document may include the lawyer's name and contact information. If the lawyer has died or retired, his or her law firm may still have the will. Alternatively, you can contact the county bar association in the county in which the lawyer practiced to see if they know who inherited the lawyer's files and wills.

4. Visit The Probate Court.

While it is rare nowadays, many older Americans used to file their wills with the Probate Court in the county in which they lived. These wills have been filed away in the safe at the Courthouse for years. Your local probate court will tell you if the deceased person filed his or her will with the Court and will retrieve it to file with the application to open the probate estate.

5. If You Can't Find The Original Will, Use A Copy.

There is an option if you have tried everything but simply cannot find the original will. Michigan Probate Courts will allow you to file a copy of the deceased person's will. However, you will have to file a Petition for Probate and have a court hearing first. The Judge will want to know what efforts you have taken to find the original will and why you believe that the document you are presenting is a duplicate of the last original will executed by the deceased person. If the Judge is convinced by clear and convincing evidence that the copy is a duplicate of the original will, the copy will be admitted to probate.

It is always best to locate the original will so try your hardest to locate that document. However, all is not lost if it is missing, you can always file a copy.