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20 Feb 2021

How to track down a will when a loved one passes away suddenly

Which? survey reveals nine in 10 are unaware of the online service for tracing a will

When a loved one dies, finding their will can be difficult - especially if they passed away unexpectedly.

There are steps you can take to locate a missing will. However, new research by Which? has revealed that many people don't know about one of the simplest steps available.

In a survey of over 1,100 Which? members conducted in February 2021, nine in 10 hadn't heard of Certainty, the National Wills Register.

Here, we explain how to use Certainty's services to find a will. We also look at some of the other ways to track down a lost will and what to do if - after taking all these steps - you still can't find it.

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Why do you need the will?

Finding the deceased's will is very important. Without one, the estate will be distributed in line with intestacy rules.

This means the deceased's assets might not pass on to the people they wanted to receive them.

As an executor, you have a legal duty to distribute the deceased's estate correctly. If any mistakes are made, you could be held financially responsible.

Where should you look for the will?

First, carry out a full search of the deceased's home. Ask the surviving family members if there are any safe places where the deceased kept important documents. Then continue to check inside every drawer and cupboard until you can safely say it isn't in the house.

Once you've done this, reach out to the deceased's solicitor or bank as it's possible they could be storing the will.

If the deceased's solicitors have shut down, contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). When they close a practice, they take the client documents, so the will could have ended up with them.

The National Wills Register

You've taken all these steps and you still don't have the will. At this point, it might be worth using Certainty, the National Wills Register.

Only one in 10 members in our survey had heard of Certainty, and just half of those people knew it could be used to search for wills.

Which? offers a will search using Certainty's service. There are two kinds to choose from: a registered will search or a combined will search.

In a registered will search, Certainty checks their database of over 8.7m registered wills. This costs £45.60.

In a combined will search, Certainty also searches nationally for unregistered wills for a fee of £114. They focus primarily on areas where the deceased worked and lived. They also post a notice on Certainty's missing will noticeboard, read by thousands of solicitors.

What if I still can't find the will?

If the will is still nowhere to be found - but you're certain the deceased made one - you may be able to proceed with a draft, copy or reconstruction of the will.

This will require making an application to the probate registry under Rule 54 of the Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987.

However, for your application to be successful, you'll need strong evidence of the deceased's intentions. Something like notes from a meeting with a solicitor would be suitable.

You'll also need to provide an explanation for how the will went missing. Did the deceased have a habit of losing things? Was there a big clear-out where it could have been thrown out by mistake? Or a property fire that could have destroyed it?

In certain circumstances, the solicitors may have lost the will. If you believe this has happened, you could claim compensation. Which? Legal can help.