How can you find out if someone has a Will?

After someone passes away, it’s important to find out if they have left a Will and if so, where it’s kept.

Typically, if a Will exists, the named executor(s) is responsible for locating it and obtaining the original copy.

The executor is also the only person who’s legally entitled to see the Will before probate has been issued (before the deceased’s estate is distributed).

Although, they may share the contents of the Will with the beneficiaries (those who’ll receive an inheritance).

Once probate has been granted, the Will is stored online with the Probate Service and any member of the public can download a copy.

In this guide, we explain in detail:

  • How to find a Will before probate
  • How to find a Will online after probate

We also help to answer some common questions, including:

Reassured, award-winning life insurance and funeral plan broker has written this helpful guide on how to find out if someone has left a Will in the UK.

Continue reading for everything you need to know…

What is a Will and what does it include?

In England and Wales, a Will is a legally binding document that allows someone to declare what happens to their estate after they’re gone.

Their estate comprises of any property, possessions and assets that they have.

A Will includes information such as:

  • Details of the person who made the Will (the ‘testator’)
  • Names of the person or people who’ll have the legal responsibility to deal with the estate as per the deceased’s wishes (the ‘executors’)
  • The person or people who’ll inherit from the estate (the ‘beneficiaries’)
  • Details of how their estate should be distributed
  • Funeral wishes and requirements

For a Will to be legally valid, it needs to be witnessed and signed by two independent adults as well as the testator.

The witnesses cannot be related to the testator and must not benefit from the Will in any way.

How to find a Will (before probate)

Before someone passes away

If someone has written a Will, then this document can be kept private until they pass away.

They may tell the named executor(s) or beneficiary(ies) where it’s kept and what the contents are, but they’re not obliged to.

There’s also no requirement for a Will to be registered online or stored in an official location until after probate has been issued.

Sometimes, this can make it difficult to find out if someone has a Will and who may benefit from their estate when they die.


After someone passes away

As mentioned, it’s important to find out if someone has a Will when they pass away, and to carry out all the necessary searches before deciding conclusively if there’s a Will or not.

If a Will exists, then the named executor will need the original copy so that they can apply for probate.

A grant of probate allows them to lawfully administer the deceased’s estate and distribute their assets according to their wishes.

Places to search for a Will:

  • At the deceased’s home
    They may have it filed away in a cupboard or kept in a drawer with other important paperwork. If you can’t find the Will itself, you may come across other documents or information that may be helpful, such as the details of a solicitor.

    Also, keep an eye out for a Certainty Will Registration Certificate, this means their Will can be found on the National Will Register

  • Solicitors
    A solicitor or accountant may have helped draw up the deceased’s Will and/or may have it stored safely on their behalf. If you’re unsure which one they used, you may need to call around all of those who are local to the deceased’s home. Only the executor can obtain the Will from a solicitor or accountant

  • Their bank
    Whilst it’s not recommended to store a Will at the bank, sometimes this is the case. You can contact the deceased’s bank to find out if they have the Will but they may not provide any information unless you’re the executor.

    If they have the Will, then they may not release it until probate has been granted (as the deceased’s assets are frozen until then). If they can provide a copy, then only the executor can obtain this

  • Certainty National Will Register
    Solicitors, Will writers and other professionals use the National Will Register to store their client’s Wills. Individuals can also store their Will on the register for safekeeping.

    You can carry out a search for registered Wills and non-registered Wills on Certainty by providing details of the deceased, your details and the reason for your search. There’s a fee (from £45.60) to use the service but you should be able to claim this back from the estate.

    Keeping in mind, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to establish the existence of a Will or see the contents of a Will unless you’re the executor (or if you’ve been given power of attorney by the testator)

  • Probate registry (England and Wales)
    The probate service has a Will storage facility. You could contact your local probate registry to see if they are storing the deceased’s Will

Who is entitled to see a Will after death?

The executor is the only person who’s legally entitled to see the Will after death and before probate has been granted.

They can a obtain copy of the Will from the solicitor or bank, and they can access the Will on the National Will Register.


When do beneficiaries of a Will get notified?

The executor has a duty to identify the beneficiaries named in the Will and notify them of their entitlement.

Generally, this happens not long after death and early on in the probate process. However, the executor has no legal obligation to disclose any of the Will until probate has been granted.

How to find a Will online (after probate)

A Will becomes publicly available after probate has been granted.

In England and Wales, Wills and probate records are stored online by the probate service.

You can search the database on the government website to find a Will and download a copy (there’s a £1.50 fee).

However, not all records will include a Will. If a Will is included, the results will state ‘Grant and Will’.

If a Will isn’t included, then the results will state ‘Grant only’.

Generally, the probate process takes 6 - 9 months so you may need to wait a while to see the Will if the person has recently died.

For information on how to find a Will online in Scotland, visit https://www.mygov.scot/finding-will

For information on how to find a Will online in Northern Ireland, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni

How to find out if you are a beneficiary in a Will

To find out if you’re a beneficiary in a Will then you may need to ask the executor, if you know who they are and if it’s appropriate to do so.

If you’re a beneficiary, then they’ll probably tell you. However, they’re not legally obliged to until probate has been granted.

As mentioned, beneficiaries are usually informed of their entitlement not long after someone has died and during the probate process.

Once probate has been granted, which can take a few months, beneficiaries can access a copy of the Will on the government website.

What happens if there is no Will?

If there is no Will or if a Will can’t be found, then intestacy law determines how the deceased’s estate is distributed.

Under intestacy law (‘Rules of Intestacy’) in England and Wales:

  • The next of kin (closest living relative) would be appointed as the administrator of the estate
  • The husband, wife or civil partner would inherit all of the assets (including property) up to £270,000 and all of the personal possessions, whatever their value
  • The husband, wife or civil partner also inherits half of the remaining estate and the other half is divided equally between the surviving children

The Rules of Intestacy are different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

How to find out if someone has a funeral plan

Many people in the UK have a prepaid funeral plan in place to protect their loved ones from unexpected (and rising) funeral costs.

When someone passes away, they may not have kept their funeral plan details with other important documents such as their Will.

It’s important to find out if they have funeral plan to ensure that they’re selfless investment isn’t lost.

You can carry out a free and simple search on the Funeral Planning Authority website, which has a register of most plans.


How to find out if someone has life insurance

Surprisingly, there are many unclaimed life insurance policies in the UK.

Life insurance is a type of policy that pays out a cash sum to loved ones when the policyholder dies.

You may not know that a deceased partner, parent or other relative has life insurance in place or if you’re a beneficiary.

Fortunately, there are various searches you can carry out to be sure. See our How to find out if someone has life insurance guide for all the details.

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