How to find the last will

pile of files denoting adminWhere do you start when you need to find the last will of someone who has died?

If you are dealing with the estate of a loved one who has died, you will need to confirm:

  • if they wrote a will
  • if it is the last will
  • where the will is located

If no will is found, the deceased’s estate will be deemed to be intestate. If there is a will, the deceased’s estate will be considered testate.

Family, executors and beneficiaries may be unaware of a will’s existence or location; or assume that a will was never written (even though it was); or believe that a later will exists than the will that’s being used to distribute the estate. They may even think that the will is being intentionally suppressed by a disgruntled person, because the will they found didn't favor them.

Therefore, the last will should be found, not least because it may contain burial wishes, as well as directions as to how the deceased wished their estate to be distributed.

So, if you are dealing with the deceased’s estate as executor, what routes can you follow to ensure that you have the latest will?

Check the deceased’s home, documents, banks, family, friends and GP

You may wish to check the deceased’s home for a will in advance of a funeral and prior to distributing an estate (bear in mind that there is no guarantee that any will that you find is the last will).

Note any correspondence that the deceased had with a law firm, as this may provide a clue as to which law firm wrote a will. A call to banks where they held accounts may also be useful. You will need to provide a death certificate and be able to prove your entitlement to discuss a will prior to any information being released.

Friends, other family and even neighbours may be able to shed some light on a missing will.

The deceased’s GP may be able to confirm if an attorney or deputy had been made known to them. If so, the attorney or deputy may be able to help identify the location of the last will.

Search online

To find a will following a death, you can search the National Will Register (operated by Certainty), which:

Most wills in the UK are written using a solicitor or will writer, who will, in most cases, store the original will (usually for free). The cost of the search can be reclaimed from the estate (legal disbursement).

Wills that are held at the Probate Registry

For someone to have obtained a grant of probate from the Probate Registry, they will have had to supply the deceased’s will, so will hold a copy. Once a will goes to probate, the will becomes a public record and you can see its contents.

If you want to search for the wills of those for whom grants of representation have already been issued, you can carry out a grant of probate search. This can be done online for grants issued after 1858, and a small fee (currently £10) is payable for the copy document (though the procedure differs in Scotland and Northern Ireland).

You can also apply to the Probate Registry to see if they are holding a will for the deceased. However, the service is not widely used, as most people who write wills choose to leave the original with their solicitor or will writer for safekeeping.

What happens if the law firm that held the will has since closed?

If a firm of solicitors closes or merges with another law firm, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will hold a record. If you believe that this is the case, the SRA will be able to tell you whether the firm that closed or merged transferred their client files to another law firm, and which law firm you need to contact.

In circumstances in which files are not transferred to another law firm, they will be held by the SRA.

About the author

Certainty is the longest established and largest will register in the UK, and is the Law Society's endorsed provider of national will register. 

See also