One of the questions I am most often asked by friends in connection with my work is how they can obtain a copy of a family member or friend’s Will without having to ask family members who are grieving or who might worry about why they wish to see the Will.
Wills are very personal documents, most of us keep them private whilst we are alive, and it can be awkward for family members or friends to ask to see a copy after someone has died. Often people are unsure as to whether they have any right to ask to see the Will. How easy it is to get hold of a copy of the Will without asking the Executors (the people named by the Will to deal with the estate) will depend on whether the Will has to go to Probate.
Any Will that has to go to Probate becomes a public document and anyone can obtain a copy. Probate is the process where a Will is ‘proved’ by the Probate Registry. This means that the Will is submitted to the Registry for it to be checked that it is valid and that the right people are making the Probate application. If all is in order, the Court will issue a ‘Grant of Probate’, which is a certificate that the Executors can present to the banks and financial institutions to enable them to collect in the deceased’s assets.
To check whether a Grant of Probate has been issued and if a copy of the Will can be obtained via the Probate Registry, you can go to the Government’s ‘Find a Will’ website at https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate. You will need to know the person’s name and year of death to carry out the search. There is a £10 fee to obtain a copy of the Grant and of any Will left by the deceased. (You can search Will records going back to 1858, so it is also a really useful tool for looking into your family history.)
If you cannot find a record of a Grant and Will using the person’s name and year of death then it may be that Probate was not needed to deal with the estate or that it has not been obtained yet (in which case you may wish to search again in a few weeks’ time). Typically it can take 6-12 months after the death to obtain Probate or even longer for some estates. Wills only become publically available after Probate has been granted. If you can only find a Grant using the search tool with no Will atttached, then this would mean that the deceased has not left a Will and generally their estate will have passed to their next of kin.
Not all estates need to go to Probate. If the deceased’s assets were held jointly with someone else, such as a husband or wife, then those assets may automatically pass to the surviving joint owner without the need to go to Probate. If the estate was modest in size (up to around £35,000) then Probate may not have been needed to close the accounts. If Probate is not needed to deal with the estate, then you would need to ask the Executors or solicitors dealing with the estate to provide you with a copy of the Will, but they would not be obliged to do so.
If you are concerned about the way an estate is being dealt with, or that you have not received a share of an estate that you believe you are entitled to, then I would strongly advise you to consult a solicitor as soon as possible.