Executor Tips: Where to Look to Find the Will for Probate

In my last post, we had frantic Ann searching for Olivia’s original will. I explained why you need to search for the original will. Now I’ll give you some tips on how to find wills.

Executors need to know exactly where the will is and how to get it. Let me tell you how I learned about this. The deceased had told the executor: “My will is in a black box in the back room where my computer is.”

That sounds simple, doesn’t it?

But there was a computer on the main floor of the house. There was also a laptop computer in the bedroom on another floor. In the basement, the deceased had a computer printer and stored computer files. Each floor had at least 10 black boxes or cases that could hide a will.

Estate executors must not discard papers

You must be careful. Consider having someone help you search for the will. An extra set of eyes doubles your chances of finding it. A witness can also confirm that you did not discard any evidence.

At this point, you should not be discarding any papers. I once found a person’s will, in their home, written on two sides of a dirty manila envelope. It looked like it should have been in the garbage. You never know what handwritten notes have any legal bearing.

• A scribble on the back of a dry cleaner flyer could be a will.

• The sample may be evidence later to identify Olivia’s handwriting.

• Retain any handwriting sample.

Where Executors Look for A Will

Are you an executor? If you have no clue where to begin, here are some tips:

1. Search the Deceased’s Personal Residence

This is an obvious first step. But where do you begin? You are looking for places that might have important documents. Look for tax returns, insurance policies, ownership documents and warranties.

Olivia may have a computer, regular mail, and filing cabinets.

2. Bank deposit box

Where did Olivia have bank accounts? Her recent mail or e-mail may indicate online banking. Banks near her place of employment or residence could have a bank box. You may need to ask the bank if they have Olivia’s safe deposit box. If Olivia had a bank deposit box, you want to find the bank key.

Checking yearly bank statements may show a fee charged for the deposit box. Online banking records may give you more leads to follow.

Privacy procedures vary from bank to bank. Often bank managers will not respond to an executor’s inquiries. They may want you to produce more than a funeral director’s certificate. Identity fraud is a form of grave robbing.

Banks may respond differently to a letter from Ann’s lawyer.

3. Check with Olivia’s relatives or known beneficiaries

These people may have information about the will or Olivia’s lawyer’s name. Contacting Olivia’s possible beneficiaries may be helpful. They may know who acted as her lawyer or financial advisors.

4. Contact any Professionals

Ask these questions about Olivia:

• Did she have a financial advisor or a business lawyer?

• Did she purchase real estate using a lawyer?

• Was she involved in matrimonial or divorce proceedings?

• Would a relative have referred her to a will lawyer?

• Did Olivia have assets (a home, cottage, etc.) in another jurisdiction?

• Who did her income taxes?

5. Hire a Lawyer

Hire a lawyer to help you do further searches. Ask your lawyer to check with other lawyers. Lawyers can help you by conducting searches and placing advertisements.

They can check if someone deposited a will with the estate court. Sometimes the Law Society of Upper Canada has original wills. These are often stored or recovered from lawyers who are no longer in practice.

Executor Tips:

Time is always important in handling an estate. Don’t put off looking for the will. If you can’t get your hands on the will quickly, get help. Why would you want to waste your time tracing every possible lead? Hire an experienced estate lawyer to put you on the right track.