When meeting with a probate attorney for the first time, the original will is the foundation to the entire estate and will be the first document requested. The will determines who the beneficiaries are and who the personal representative will be. For relatives of deceased loved ones, hunting down the original will may be a daunting task, but here are the five best places to look.
1. In an estate planning binder-
When clients meet with an estate planning attorney to draft their will, there are other documents that may be prepared simultaneously, such as a Durable Power of Attorney. After the documents are prepared, the attorney usually organizes all the documents in a folder or a binder with the originals enclosed to send home with the client. If the deceased had a trust prepared by an attorney, the original will could be in a trust folder or binder.
2. In a safe deposit box-
Many clients, especially ones who travel, will leave their estate planning documents and will in a safe deposit box. A safe deposit box protects clients against misplacing the original will or natural disasters. If the original will is in a safe deposit box, the key will need to be acquired along with personal information about the deceased and a death certificate, depending on the financial institution.
3. With the attorney that prepared the will-
Due to the increased accessibility of technology, attorneys nowadays will scan all original documents into their computer for safekeeping. Similarly, clients may wish for their attorney to hold on to the original will and take the copies home with them. Speak with the attorney who has prepared the deceased’s estate planning documents to see if they have the original will.
4. With the designated Durable Power of Attorney or other agent-
If a client has prepared a Durable Power of Attorney or Surrogate Healthcare Power of Attorney along with their will, the client may choose to send the original will to the designated agent stated in the document. Many clients designate children or siblings as their agents and would rather give them easy access to the original will, given that it is their responsibility to act once the client is deceased. Perhaps the deceased may have given the original will to their designated caretaker as their emergency contact.
5. With the court-
If the deceased has been dead for several years, but a probate proceeding has never commenced, the original will and a death certificate may already be filed with the court due to a “mini” probate proceeding done by the living spouse of the deceased or the attorney who prepared the original will. The original will would be filed on the docket with the county court where the deceased died and a certified copy could be requested from the clerk.