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How to find out if a will exists in the UK?

During what is already a difficult time, sorting out a will after the death of a loved one can be a challenging and stressful event. To help you navigate the process, we delve into how to find a will before and after the probate process, in addition to clarifying some of the most common queries.

Why is it important to make a will?

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A will is a legal document that stipulates your last wishes once you pass away. You can choose how your estate is distributed and who oversees the process. It’s essential to have an up to date will even if you are still young and in good health. Accidents can happen, and not having a will could cause some difficulties for your family.

Without a will, your estate may be distributed against your wishes, as it follows a strict hierarchy that’s used on your behalf. If you’re a single parent and have children under 18 years of age, you should also state who should become their legal guardian. Having a will in place also ensures that there’s an executor who will carry out your wishes, such as paying off debt and tying up loose ends.

What information does a will include?

The will contains various details, including:

  • The information of the testator (the person who made the will).
  • The names and information of the executors (the people in charge of overseeing the final wishes).
  • The details of the will’s beneficiaries (the people set to inherit).
  • The details of how the deceased’s estate will be distributed among the beneficiaries.
  • Any funeral requirements made by the testator.

Note that a will remains a private document whilst the testator is still alive.

Looking for copies of a will after someone dies

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Once a testator passes away, finding a will can be difficult. No law requires someone to tell the beneficiaries or executors where a will is kept. Typically, it’s saved somewhere private and locked away from being found accidentally.

It’s essential that you find the will since the executor(s) will need the original copy to get a grant of probate. Once the process is successfully started, they may start distributing the testator’s estate as stipulated in the will. If you’re concerned that you don’t know where the original document is, here are some places to start looking:

Home

The first obvious place to start is at the deceased’s home. You should check their personal documents, whether they have a safe or an office area to keep important files.

Solicitors

If, before the person died, they had help from local solicitors to draw up their will, it’s possible that the law firm kept the document on their behalf. Note that only the executor of the will can obtain it from a solicitor.

Bank

Although not as common, the will may be stored at the deceased’s bank. Like solicitors, banks may not provide the will or any information if you aren’t the executor.

Certainty National Will Register

The national will register can be used by a law society, personal representative, solicitor, or will writing service to store client wills. You can search for non registered wills and registered wills on the platform for a flat fee. Usually, you won’t have the power to see the will’s contents unless you are the executor.

Prerequisites for a valid will

Specific prerequisites must be met for a will to be valid. For instance:

  • The writer of the will must be at least 18 years old.
  • The testator must write the will freely and without pressure to allocate certain parts of the estate to some beneficiaries.
  • The writer must be of sound mind and entirely aware of the people and contents stipulated in the will.
  • Must be signed by the writer in the presence of two witnesses.
  • Both witnesses must also sign the document in the presence of the testator.

It’s important to note that the witness can’t be someone that’s set to benefit from the will. They also can’t be the partner of someone that’s benefiting. If the will is found to be invalid, the deceased’s wishes will not be kept. You should choose someone you trust since overseeing the distribution of your estate and last wishes is an important role.

Who are executors?

The testator chooses the executors to handle the entire will and inheritance process. They will ensure that your wishes are kept and that your estate is distributed accordingly. They’ll also be in charge of gathering all the documents and paying any expenses you’ve stipulated, including debts, funeral costs, and administration fees.

Who should be appointed as executors?

It’s wise to appoint more than one executor, although this isn’t a legal requirement. You should appoint more than one in case they pass away or to divide the workload of handling the will process. Most people appoint:

  • Family and friends.
  • Banks.
  • Solicitors or accountants.

Ensure that you have permission to put down someone as your executor, as they could refuse to oversee the duties when you pass away.

What should be included in a will?

To maximise efficiency when first getting in touch with a solicitor, you should go prepared with a list and overview of your will’s main points, including:

  • Who the beneficiaries and executors are.
  • How much money each beneficiary will receive.
  • How you’d like to divide your estate.
  • Who’ll be your children’s legal guardian.
  • Your funeral wishes.

Having these ready before seeing a solicitor will save you time and money. As previously stated, you should ensure that executors have agreed to the task beforehand, or they could later refuse to oversee their duties.

Getting a copy of the will when probate has been granted

Before a grant of probate has been issued, only the official executors can have access to the will. However, once the probate has been granted, anyone can search for probate records on a probate registry. It becomes public, and anyone can obtain a copy. Note that if an application hasn’t been made for a grant of probate, the document will not be a public document and thus only available to the executor.

You can begin your standing search for probate records on the UK Government site, or alternatively, you may want to employ a search service to do the work on your behalf.

Are wills public record UK?

As previously stated, all wills are private until a grant of probate is made. The process can be started by contacting a probate service. Once the grant is made, all wills are made public documents and will be stored on the national will register.

How do I change my will?

It’s essential that you don’t make changes to any will that’s already been signed by you and two witnesses. If you do so, your own will is no longer legally valid. If you’d like to make changes, you should write a new will or request a codicil, which allows you to amend or add items to your existing will.

Change of circumstances

Naturally, your circumstances change throughout your life. As a result, the details of your will might also need to be modified. This might be the case if you’ve gone through a divorce or had children and would like to add them to your will.

Your will must be updated regularly to ensure that new variables are covered. As previously mentioned, you should write a new document or request a codicil to make these changes. Only the new original will become a public document when a grant of probate is made. The previous wills registered will be kept private.

When it is particularly advisable to use a solicitor

There are certain situations where it’s a good idea to hire the services of a solicitor. Having legal advice is always a good idea if you’ve never written a will before. You should consider a solicitor when:

  • You own a property with someone that isn’t a civil partner or a spouse.
  • You’d like to leave part of your estate to someone that isn’t independent.
  • Multiple family members may make a claim, such as children from previous marriages.
  • You’re not a permanent resident in the UK.
  • You’re a resident in the UK, but you have property abroad.
  • You’ve got a business.

Check that the professional you plan to hire is a member of the solicitors regulation authority and has extensive experience helping clients in your situation.

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