The starting point of the majority of contested probate cases is to find out what is contained in the Will-maker’s last Will. Securing a copy is therefore essential.
Before probate is granted:
Check the Will-maker’s property.
The first port of call, if you are able, is the Will-maker’s home. Make a careful search of all paperwork. Many people keep an original copy of their will in their home. The will might be an open document, or it might be sealed in an envelope. It might be a 1-page “do it yourself” document that the Will-maker download from the internet or purchased from a stationary office. It might be a professionally drafted document produced by a solicitor. It might have been locked in a safe place, or it might simply be in a drawer somewhere.
If you can’t find it, look for alternative signs, such as correspondence from a solicitor etc who might have drafted the document.
Organisations that might hold the Will.
If you can’t find the Will in the Will-maker’s home, make enquiries with those businesses that might have assisted with the drafting of a Will. Did the Will-maker have a regular solicitor, or financial adviser etc that he consulted, for example? They may be able to help you.
First of all, you are likely to need a copy of the death certificate before anybody will release a copy of the Will.
Next, approach those businesses that the Will-maker might have used for assistance.
If you are unaware if the Will-maker used a particular solicitor, then more generalised enquiries should be made.
An organisation called “Certainty” controls a National Register of Wills. Unfortunately, not everybody files information with Certainty, but if they did, then you will be directed to those who hold a copy of the Will. Certainty can be contacted at The Chapel, Chapel Lane, Lapworth, Solihull, B94 6EU. The phone number is 0330 1003660, and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
If this fails, other organisations might be able to help. The Secretary of the local Law Society will be able advise which solicitor firms in the area provide will-drafting services, and provide their contact details. The Society of Will Writers, which represents the interests of will-drafters who are not solicitors, will be able to provide the same assistance and direct you to their local members.
Failing that, many wills are kept at the local Probate Registry, or at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (usually when the solicitor firm that drafted the will has gone out of business).
If you are not an executor of the estate, you can request a copy of the Will from the executors. However, until such times as probate has been granted, the will is deemed to be a confidential document, and so the executor is not under an obligation to provide you with a copy if he/she doesn’t want to.
If enquiries are fruitless.
If you cannot secure a copy of the Will, then you should apply to the Probate Registry for a “Standing Search”. The Application can be made on paper (at the time of writing on form PA1S – Application for a Search) or online. There is a nominal fee of £10.00 to do so. Once completed, the Probate Registry will keep a note of your request for 6 months. If a Grant of Probate is issued within that time period, then you will automatically be sent a copy of the Grant and any Will. The search can be renewed (before it expires) for a further 6 months, for a further fee of £10.00.
After probate has been granted:
Finally, if probate has been granted, then the will becomes a public document. If your attempts to find or receive a copy have been fruitless, you should apply to the Probate Registry for a Standing Search, as above. This will cost £10, and you should expect to receive a copy of both the Will and the Grant of Probate within 14 days.