If a relative or someone close to you has died and you don’t know whether or not they have a will, you might be wondering how to go about finding out if there is one.

Many people notify friends or family members if they have a will, and inform them where they can find it once they pass away, but this isn’t always the case. 

Here, we explain how to find a will, and who has the right to obtain a copy.

How do I track down a will?

Many people keep one copy in their home and store the original with the solicitor who drew it up. But people move, so may not be near their solicitor, firms close or are taken over and some people draw up DIY wills where there’s no solicitor involved. 

Your best starting point is the National Will Register, but you will have to pay to use this service. For example, if you are in possession of a Will Registration certificate or believe that the Will you are looking for was registered, a Will Register search will set you back £58.80. If, however, you don’t know if a will has been registered, you can sign up for what’s known as a ‘Will Search Combined’ search which also looks for wills that haven’t been registered and places a notice on the Missing Will Notice Board, which is issued to all National Will Register member solicitors. This service costs £126.

If you can’t locate a will via the National Will Register, you may want to try getting in touch with solicitors based near to the person who’s died or to contact any that you know they might have had dealings with. For example, if they used a solicitor for a house move or divorce, they might be worth speaking to and should be able to confirm whether or not there was a will. If you have been appointed an executor by the person who has died, you will be able to see a copy of the will once you’ve provided ID.

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Who has the right to see a copy of a will?

The only people who actually have the right to see a copy of the will before probate has been granted are the executors. These are the people (or firms, as solicitors and banks can act as executors) that sort out the finances of someone who’s died as set out in their will. Find out more about being an executor in our guide What is an executor?

If you are due to inherit something left to you in the will, you don’t have an automatic right to see a copy of it. However, in some cases solicitors will allow beneficiaries to see a copy of the will if they are inheriting the residue of an estate, namely, what’s left over once others have inherited specific amounts. But if you’ve just been left a small amount, you wouldn’t normally be shown a copy of the will.

When does a will become a public document?

Once probate has been granted, in England or Wales, which means once any debts or taxes have been paid and money distributed, the will becomes a public document, and anyone can get a copy of it. You can apply for a copy of a will at the Probate Registry. Each copy of a probate record ordered online or by post costs £1.50

In Scotland there’s a different system. You can order a copy of a will at the Registers of Scotland. You will need the full name of the person whose will you are looking for, along with the date of recording in the Register of Deeds (this is usually not the same date as the person’s date of death).

If you are looking for a will that was registered before 15 March 1993, you’ll need to search the National Records of Scotland. 

In Northern Ireland, you can obtain a copy of a will once a grant of probate or letters of administration has been issued, via the Probate Office and the District Probate Registries, which hold the records for grants which have been issued within the past 20 years. Find out more at the Probate Register Online.

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What if I think I’ve been left something in a will but the executor won’t let me see it?

Unfortunately you don’t have a right to see the will until probate has been granted. The best thing you can do is to do a ‘standing search’ at the Probate Registry (assuming the will was drawn up in England or Wales). You can use form PA1S to ask to be sent a copy of a probate if it’s likely to be granted in the next six months. This is called a ‘standing search’ and will cost you £3. It can be renewed after six months if probate hasn’t been granted within this time. 

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