How to Locate a Last Will and Testament

A will is a legal document that directs the disposition of the deceased’s assets after death. If someone close to you has died and you are responsible for finding a will, here is some guidance on how to accomplish that objective.    

In short, if the person who made the will is still living, the will is a private document and cannot be searched in public records.  After a will is prepared, it is usually given to an attorney as the custodian, stored in a safe place or hidden. After the testator is deceased and a court accepts the will for probate, the document becomes accessible to the public.

How to Find a Loved One’s Will 

Traditionally, most people retain an attorney to draft their wills. This occurs less frequently now that “form wills” are available online. Form wills are standard, pre-drafted simple will forms that you can print off the internet and fill in the blanks to make a valid will.

People generally keep the wills they create themselves in their homes, in a locked safe or other “safe” place. However, many people keep their will with other important papers in their desk, drawer, or file cabinet. You should also check any secret places, like under a bed, in the back of a closet, or in a personal safe.

If the will cannot be located in the home, you should check to see if the original, executed version of their will is in the hands of the person’s attorney, which is typically the case when an attorney has drafted the will.  If you don’t know the name of the decedent’s attorney, you should seek that info from family members and friends.  Contact the attorney you’ve identified to see if they wrote a will for the decedent. If they did not, they may have referred the decedent to another attorney who did.

The custodian of the will (the person who has the will at the time of the person’s death) is required to deposit the original will with the probate court within 30 days after death. Typically, the probate jurisdiction is the civil court of the county where the testator lived at the time of death. For example, contact the Probate Department in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda if the decedent lived in Oakland, California at the time of death. You can also visit the website of the county probate court having jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, you can find probate records online.

Search for older wills in archived will indexes. A court clerk will be able to search for a recent probate record in a computerized database. Less recent files may not be digitized or accessible by computer. In these cases, visit a physical archive of the court where the older wills are maintained. Look through the archived files until you locate the will.

Although wills become public court records upon the testator’s death, they are not always easy to locate for small estates.  In California, the wills of estates less than $166,250 can be settled outside of probate court, obviating the need to file the will with the court.

Please contact Lynx Legal Service with any questions regarding the above.  We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or  Our experienced professionals are standing by to answer any questions you may have.

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