So you’ve taken the time to create an estate plan, including a last will and testament, and one day you wake up to realize that you have misplaced the document. Relax. The situation is more common than you might realize, and a lot of people come to an estate planning lawyer because they believe they’ve lost their will.
Even if you inadvertently misplaced the document or destroyed it, it isn’t the end of the world. Further, if you have a relative who has died and you can’t locate that will, there are steps you can take to help you deal with the situation. Let’s take a look at some common situations that involve lost wills.
You cannot find your will.
Just like losing your car keys, your wallet, or anything else important, not being able to find your will is aggravating. You can always create a new will and specifically revoke any old will you had, but this is a last resort. To begin with, you need to search carefully.
Start by searching your home. Go one room at a time until you have searched everywhere. Take several hours to go through every possible corner of your home. Then, after that, if you still can’t find the document, you should contact your estate planning lawyer. Your lawyer will have a copy of the document on file. As long as your wishes haven’t changed, you can go to your lawyer’s office, sign the document, have it witnessed, and use that as your new will.
You cannot find a deceased relative’s will.
This situation is a little more complicated. If a close family member has died, it’s up to anyone who has possession of the will to take it to a New York Surrogate’s Court. If you can’t find that document, it becomes a little more work intensive.
First, just as you would if you lost anything else, you need to take the time to search carefully. Go through the relative’s house room by room until you can rule out each place. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for bank safety deposit box keys, as well as attorney business cards or letterhead. If your deceased relative had a bank safe deposit box, it’s possible the will is located there. Additionally, if your relative had a lawyer, it’s likely the lawyer knows where the will is, or at least know who might have it.
You have no idea where the will is.
Even if a family member dies and you cannot locate the will, there are still options. You can begin the probate process without a will, but you will need to speak to a probate attorney about the requirements involved.