When somebody dies, their estate – property, finances, investments or any other financial items – has to be dealt with. Usually, the first thing to check is if the deceased made a will and who the executor of that will is.

The will sets out how the deceased wants their estate to be distributed, and the executor is the person they have named to manage this process. In some cases, however, it may not be known if a will was made or it may have been lost. You may suspect that a later will was made that cancels out the known will, or maybe you think you might need to challenge a will and the executor won’t share any details. Where there is uncertainty, you should carry out a will search.

This is exactly as it sounds – searching for the will. You can do this the old fashioned way – looking through their personal effects or the digital way.

If you’re not sure where or how to start looking, here’s what you need to know when executing a will search…

How To Do An Online Will Search…

If you’re searching for a will online, it makes sense to start with a will registry service. Nowadays, many people decide to register their will digitally as well as keeping hard copies. That way, if the document were to go missing or be tampered with, a digital version is safely secured to ensure their estate is distributed according to their wishes after their death.

The largest and most established of these services is Certainty, the Law Society’s endorsed provider of a national will register. It holds seven million will records and also searches nationally for wills that have not been registered, that are held by solicitors or will writers. Individuals can register their wills and solicitors also use it to leave a record that they are holding a will. There is a small cost to conduct a search via Certainty. Find out more at The National Wills Register.

If the executor has to apply to the Government for probate (the process of gaining validation for the will as genuine from the Probate Registry Office, and permission for the executors to begin dealing with the estate), the will becomes a public document and you can search online for a probate record. Again, there is a small charge to get copies of the will and grant of probate, apply online here.

How Else Can You Search For A Will?

You can carry out a will search the traditional way – by checking the deceased’s home and belongings (as long as you’re not trespassing).

You can also contact their solicitor if they had one, to check if they hold the will or know where it is. If you don’t know who the deceased’s solicitor is, try contacting local law firms to see if they had the deceased as a client.

What Happens If No Will Is Found?

If no will can be found the estate enters Intestacy, and there are strict rules about how the will is distributed in this case. Usually only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. There is sadly no provision for automatic inheritance rights for step children or unmarried partners.

If there is no will or named executor, certain people can apply to be an administrator of the intestate estate, usually the deceased’s spouse, civil partner or child.

Will And Probate Law Is Complex…

…and it can be a lot to take on board when you are dealing with the loss of a loved one. If you need guidance, contact our specialist team for expert advice and a supportive ear. You can find more information about probate, executors and wills on our blog.