What to Do if a Will has been Lost or Destroyed
If a Will has been lost, there are a number of things you can do to locate it. If you believe a Will has been destroyed, this problem may be more difficult to resolve as destroying a Will can mean it has been revoked. See Destroyed Wills below.
If you are applying for Probate, you will need to send the original Will with your Probate application. If you can’t find the Will you may not be able to obtain the Grant of Probate until you can locate the original or obtain an Order from the Probate Registry confirming they will accept a signed copy of that Will.
How to Find a Lost Will
Firstly, you should sort through all of the paperwork of the person who died to try to find it or written evidence of where the original Will is stored. You might come across a photocopy, but in the first instance you should try to find the original Will.
Here are some of the places you can try to find a missing Will:
- The Solicitor or law firm who wrote the Will
If you’ve located a photocopy, you can usually find the details of the Solicitor or law firm who prepared the Will on the front page. They may hold the original Will, so it’s advisable to contact them straight away. Law firms often hold original Wills because they have storage facilities which are fire-proof and flood proof.
- If the law firm has closed contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority
Law firms do merge or cease trading. If the firm of Solicitors that drafted the Will is no longer practising, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) should be able to tell you which firm holds the Will. If that law firm has closed down or ceased trading, the SRA should still know the whereabouts of the Will.
- Check with Certainty, the National Wills Register
Certainty is the National Will Register with over 8.5 million Wills registered on the National Will Register. They offer a registration service rather than holding the Will itself. Instead they simply note that a Will exists and its location. To register your Will, you will pay a £30 fee. If you are looking for a lost Will, you can only search the National Will Register once someone has died. You must also have an interest in the Estate because you are a beneficiary or Executor. It is not compulsory to register a Will with Certainty which means they may not have a record of the location of the Will. They can search for Wills that have not been registered using the REACH search. If you choose this option, you can search in up to 3 postcode areas that the person who died may have lived in. You can contact Stevie Fisher at Certainty on 0330 1 003 600 or on firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Check with Probate Service
In England and Wales you can store a Will with the Probate Registry for only £20. It’s worth checking to see if the Will is stored with them here. You should note that even if the Will is stored there, you may only be able to retrieve the original Will during your lifetime. This is because the Probate Registry will retain the original until an application is made for a Grant of Probate.
- Check Local Law Firms
Did the person who died use a particular Solicitor or law firm for a house move or a divorce? If so, it may be worth checking with them if they hold the Will.
- Check with the Bank
Many banks used to hold Wills on behalf of their customers. This service is no longer provided by many of the banks. It might still be worth checking with the bank whether they still store Wills or offer a safe deposit box service as a last resort.
If you find the original Will, you can continue with the Probate process, but if not you’ll need to submit additional paperwork and obtain an Order from the Probate Registry before they will accept a copy of the Will. In particular you will need to include a written statement known as an affidavit which outlines all the searches you’ve completed when trying to trace the original Will and also information confirming the intentions of the person who died.
In addition to your written statement, the Probate Registry will also need evidence from any blood relatives that may not inherit under the copy Will. The Rules of Intestacy outline which blood relatives will inherit where there is no Will and there is a presumption that the Will has been revoked if the original cannot be found.
Once this information has been submitted, the Probate Registry will decide if it will accept the copy Will or if the Rules of Intestacy will apply.
Any Will that has been destroyed accidently or mistakenly, will not automatically be revoked. The starting point in law in England and Wales is that the deliberate destruction of a Will is intentional. This doesn’t include destroying a Will by mistake.
You will need to provide clear evidence about the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the Will and that there was no intention to destroy that Will before the Probate Registry will accept the Will is valid.
This is a difficult area of law and getting advice from our specialist Wills and Trusts Solicitors will help you to work towards the best outcome for you.
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