Understanding the importance of a last will and testament means that people take the time to make out a will. Things can get frustrating, though, when a family is unable to find it. Read on and get some tips on locating the will and then what to do when you realize it's missing.
Where to Look
Even though you have several weeks to file a will after a loved one passes away, you may still be anxious to get the will to the probate lawyer. If you know there is a will, every effort should be made to locate it. As a loved one, you might have a copy of the will that proves its existence. However, the original signed copy is usually needed by the probate court. It's advisable to look in these locations:
- Desk drawers
- Fire boxes or lock boxes
- File cabinets
- Home safe
- Safe deposit box at a financial institution
- With the probate lawyer
When No Will Is Located
A will that cannot be found is as good as no will at all. Your probate lawyer may suggest filing the estate with the probate court, even if the will is not located. When the deceased has no will to file, they are said to be intestate. States vary in how probate handles intestate estates so speak with your probate lawyer for detailed information. In most cases, though, probate without a will proceeds something like the below.
Intestate Estates in Probate
A last will and testament is an important estate planning document, but it's far from the only one. Check with your probate lawyer if you find any of these:
- A trust
- A bank account with a payable-on-death designation or a brokerage account with a transfer-on-death designation. These documents bypass probate and provide the funds directly to the beneficiaries.
- Deeds with rights of survivorship designations.
The laws of succession determine which family members receive an inheritance from the estate. Surviving spouses are usually the first in line with adult children of the deceased coming next in line.
When no will is present, the probate lawyer will instead file an estate administration. This document, among other things, appoints an administrator to oversee the estate, like what a personal representative or executor does.
In some states, estates without a will are in process for longer than ordinary estates. For example, more time may be provided for creditors to come forward and file a claim.
To find out more about what to do when a will cannot be found, speak to a probate lawyer.