How to get a copy of a will

Several factors will determine what you need to do to get a copy of a will. Wills are private documents, so you might not be able to get a copy at all until probate has been granted. However, once probate has been granted, a will becomes a public record, making it easier to get a copy.

Why might you need to see a copy of a will?

You might need, or want, to see a copy of a person’s will for various reasons, including:

  • Wanting to know if you’ve been left anything in a person’s estate following their death
  • Wanting to analyse the will because you may wish to challenge its validity
  • Wanting to know if you can claim a more significant share of an estate
  • Wanting to know if you’re an executor if you haven’t been told or asked
  • Wanting to know who the executor or executors are, should you wish to make a claim against the estate for an unpaid debt, for example

It can be complicated to challenge the validity of a will and its contents after probate has been granted. Still, it can also be challenging to get a copy of a will before a grant of probate is issued.

Who is entitled to see the will?

If the person who wrote the will is still alive, no one has any right to see it. Of course, it’s common for people to share the contents of their will with their loved ones, so it’s clear what their wishes are long before they die, and the will comes into effect.

After a death, who is entitled to see the will depends on whether probate has been granted.

  • Before probate is granted, only named executors are entitled to see the will. If you’re an executor, you can choose to share the will with the estate’s beneficiaries should you wish. However, you’re under no legal obligation to do so.
  • After probate is granted, a will becomes a public record, so anyone can get a copy by searching probate records. You can also set up a Standing Search with the Probate Registry to be automatically sent a copy of a will and grant of probate once this is issued.

How to get a copy of a will before probate is granted

Remember, you have no legal right to see a will before someone dies. However, if someone tells you they’ve named you as an executor, you may ask to see the will, so you know what action you’ll need to take upon their death. You should also ask them where they have stored their will so you can access it after their death and ensure you can carry out their wishes.

Getting a copy of a will before probate if you’re an executor

If you’re named as an executor but don’t know where the will is when someone dies, there are several things you can do to find it. Follow these options in order until you find the deceased’s will.

Search their house

Most people have a folder or box in their homes where they keep paperwork. Even if the deceased didn’t explicitly tell you where their will was, they might have told you where to find essential paperwork to settle bills, and this is likely to be where they kept their will, too. If you’re not a direct relative but know you’re the executor, be sensitive about doing this and aim to seek the permission of the deceased’s immediate family before searching their property.

Ask their solicitor

If the deceased had a solicitor or used a professional will writing service – and you know who they were – they may have used the same service to store their will securely. As an executor, you have the right to obtain the will from wherever it has been stored. You would typically need to show the deceased’s death certificate and your proof of identity to get a copy of the will.

If the solicitor or service in question is no longer in business, you should contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This body would have a record of who took over a closed solicitor or legal service or the status of any cases and documents it was dealing with before it closed. As such, they should also be able to tell you where a will is being stored and who you need to contact to get it.

Ask their bank

Many people still choose to store important documents, like property deeds and their will, at their bank. If searching the house and asking their solicitor doesn’t bring you any joy, ask their bank when you contact them to inform them of the person’s death.

Contact the national probate registry

The will might be at the national probate registry if the deceased wrote their will using a “do it yourself” pack or were otherwise advised to store their will here.

Ask a solicitor for help in finding the will

If you’re still unable to find the will, speak to a solicitor and explain the situation. Depending on the steps already taken and any additional information you can provide, they may be able to conduct searches on your behalf to try and find it.

What if I can’t find the will?

In this case, you would need to administer the estate on the same terms as if the person died without a will.

In some cases, if a copy will exists, you may be able to use this to administer an estate but should take legal advice before doing so.

Getting a copy of a will before probate if you’re not an executor

If you want to see a copy of a will before a grant of probate is issued, you’ll need to ask an executor. However, they are under no legal obligation to show you the will if they don’t wish to do so.

If an executor or executors refuse to share a copy of the will with you, you may be able to make a court application to order them to do so. However, it is worth taking legal advice before taking this step. Depending on your reasons for wanting to see a copy of the will, you could be taking an expensive action with little potential for getting the outcome you want.

How to get a copy of a will after probate is granted

After probate is granted, a will becomes a public record, and you can search for it via the UK Government’s website.

You can set up a standing search with the Probate Registry to avoid searching yourself. Then, if probate is granted within the next six months, they will send you a copy of the Grant of Probate and the will.

Should I allow people to see the will before probate if I’m an executor?

Ultimately, this is up to you.

The most likely natural response to someone being refused a copy of a will is to think it’s because an executor has something to hide. Should any court action be taken, you may also be looked upon unfavourably if you’ve refused to share a will without good reason.

As an executor, you’ll often want to update beneficiaries about what they’re likely to receive and on the progress of administering the estate. In this respect, there is no harm in being open and sharing the will.

Of course, you also need to factor in the deceased’s wishes. Check if their will expressed any specific instructions around who you should or shouldn’t share the will with.

What should I do if I want to contest a will?

If you want to contest a will, you should take legal advice to discuss your reasons for wanting to do so and understand the chances of making a successful claim against an estate.

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