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How To Get A Copy Of A Will

A will is a private document belonging only to the person writing it. Whilst that person is is still alive, (with limited exceptions), nobody other than them is entitled to view it or demand a copy. A person is freely able to change or revoke their will as many times as they like, at any time before death. Wills have no effect until a person passes away.

The will remains a private document even after the testator’s death and will do so until probate is granted although it is usually possible to obtain information about any particular funeral wishes of the deceased that might have been held in a will.

If you are unsure as to whether you need to apply for a grant of probate see our section which explains probate in further detail. Not all estates require one, it usually depends on value and complexity.

Probate is the legal process whereby the Court gives someone authority to administer a deceased person’s ‘Estate’; Estate meaning everything you own at the time of your death.

Locating The Will

If you have exhausted all possibility of finding someone’s will amongst their possessions, look around to see if you can find a certificate of deposit. This is something they will have been sent if they arranged for the will to be kept by the ‘Principal Registry of the Family Division’ (probate registry). If you cannot find a certificate of deposit, do still check with the Registry to see if they hold the will.

If the person died in a care home or a hospital, ask them if the will was left in their safekeeping.

If this proves a dead end and you cannot find a copy of a person’s will anywhere else, enquire with the person’s bank or solicitor.

Here is a concise list of further steps you can take:

  • Conduct a ‘Certainty Will Search’. This is a service used by a law firms to register wills and access the will-finding services.
  • Make enquiries whether the deceased left his will with the ‘Principal Registry’ of the Family Division’. You can do this by contacting them or a district registry in an area close to you. This is also known as the ‘Probate Registry’.
  • Place advertisements in the Law Society’s Gazette.
  • Contact the local Law Society office. They will circulate a general enquiry to all the local law firms.

It might be necessary at some point to fill in a lost will form.

What To Do After The Death Of A Testator

When a person dies and a will was made beforehand, there are certain procedures that must be followed and regulations that must be adhered to. This includes the previously mentioned application for a grant of probate which can be done here. Provisions must also be made for the valuation of the deceased’s estate and the distribution of assets to beneficiaries. This should be done by the executor.

At some point during these procedures, especially at the time of executing the will, parties may ask to view copies of the will. Some people will be legally entitled to a copy but this all depends on who they are, their role or involvement in creating / managing the will, and their relationship with the deceased.

Once a grant of probate has been issued, wills become a public document and anyone may apply for a copy. You can find out more about searching for probate records on the Government website. This can be done either online or by post.

Sometimes, a grant of probate is not necessary, especially if the estate is particularly small. In these circumstances, a personal representative may decide to distribute copies of the will to the main beneficiaries.

Searching Probate Records

When a grant of probate has been issued, the will becomes a public document and anybody can apply for a copy. A search for probate records (to see if probate has been granted) can be made online or by post.

Here is some information if you are searching for records in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Application forms should set out an estimated timescale for receiving documents and explain how to request a copy of a will or grant of representation urgently, which is done by contacting the local District Probate Registry.

A search can be made for anyone who died in or after 1858, though if the person died within the last 6 months, you might need to apply for a “standing search” as a grant may not have been issued yet. You can check the online search service regularly for updates.

If you are unable to search online, you can apply for a standing search which enables a copy to be sent to you upon the issue of a grant. The copy will not be sealed. If you receive no result within six months, your standing search will expire. It can be extended for a further six months within one month of the expiry date by sending a further £10.

What If There Is No Will?

If the person who died did not leave a will then one or more of the deceased’s closest relatives (wife, husband or civil partner, father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter) should seek legal advice from a solicitor who will assist with further searches just incase a will is located elsewhere (see above) and explain what to do if the person has died intestate.

If you are an Executor appointed in the will of the person who has died, or the person died intestate and you think you are entitled to be appointed administrator, then you will be involved in the administration of the estate.

Personal representative/s of the deceased may or may not choose employ the services of a solicitor. If they do not, and decide to go it alone, their first task is to assemble as much information as possible relating to the person’s assets and debts. They may need to ask various people for help in doing this.

Obtaining A Copy Of A Will With No Grant Of Probate

It is very difficult for anyone to obtain a copy of the will because a will is a private document and will remain so if until a grant of probate is made.

In these circumstances, a personal representative will often send a copy of the will to the residuary beneficiaries. Residuary Beneficiaries are the people who receive the ‘residual’ balance of the Estate once all funeral expenses, debts, taxes, administration costs have been paid. If the will details set sums of money to specific people, these are ‘pecuniary legacies’ and these must be paid before the residual balance of the Estate is calculated.

Who Is Entitled To View The Will?

Only the appointed Executors of a will are entitled to read it before Probate is granted. If someone else asks to see the will, the person or organisation who has it within their possession cannot allow this to happen unless the Executor/s agree.

If you are to inherit an Estate and the Executor refuses to disclose the will or confirm what you are to receive, you may decide to instruct a Solicitor. The Solicitor would be able to formally request that the will be made available to you.

Once the Grant of Probate is issued, the will becomes a public document and anyone can request a copy by applying to the Probate Registry and paying the appropriate fee. Only wills provided to the Probate Registry become public. Wills that the deceased wrote previously will remain private.

If a Grant of Probate is not required, the will remains private. The Executor can make their own choice as to whether to share the will with the Beneficiaries, but it would not normally be seen by anyone not named in it.

Whether or not Probate is required depends on the value and complexity of the Estate. The Executors may not be able to begin dealing with assets held by organisations such as banks and building societies until a Grant of Probate has been obtained.

If you are due to inherit something in a will, you don’t have an automatic right to see a copy of it.

What If The Executor Withholds The Will?

There is no specific legal requirement for an Executor grant anyone access to a person’s Will, whoever asks them to, though as a Beneficiary, you can ask for disclosure of the contents and to be given a copy of the Will.

If you are to inherit an Estate and the Executor refuses to disclose the will or confirm what you are to receive, you may decide to instruct a Solicitor. The Solicitor would be able to formally request that the will be made available to you.

If the Executor ignores requests from even the solicitor, the next step would be to issue Court proceedings against the Executor. This usually includes a claim for the Court costs to be paid for by them, especially if it is determined that the Executor is acting obstructively. Issuing Court proceedings should be considered a last resort for Beneficiaries requesting a viewing of a will.

In extreme cases whereby a Beneficiary is still not able to read the will, a caveat could be placed on the Estate to prevent the issuing of a Grant of Probate. This means the Executor would not be able to distribute any of the Estate. Not many Executors or Beneficiaries would want to see this happen, so disclosure of the will would normally take place before things get this far down the line..

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