Finding a lost will can be a real challenge, particularly when many years have passed since the will was written. We often receive calls from people who are looking for a lost will or are not sure if a will was ever written. This usually occurs after the death or incapacitation of a parent or other relative. If you find yourself in this position, there are some things you can do to find a lost will.
If you know the name of the attorney who drafted the will, you can start by contacting that person. If you don’t have their contact information, you can go online to the Oregon State Bar (OSB) website. They have an online lawyer directory where you can search for that attorney to get their current contact information. The attorney may have the original will, or at least they should have a copy and may have knowledge of where the original might be. However, if you don’t know who the attorney who wrote the will was, all is not lost. Here are some other tips that may help find a lost will.
Start first by checking the typical places where people tend to keep (or hide) their important items such as their wills. In the deceased’s home, that means going through their filing cabinets, desk drawers, wall or floor safes, the “tackle box” in the back of the closet or garage, the bookshelves - even between pages in a book - and under mattresses. Don’t forget to also check their second residence, business, or place of work.
Second, find out if the deceased person had a safe deposit box. Many people keep their wills in a safe deposit box at their bank. Safe deposit box keys are typically large, are aluminum or silver in color, and usually say “do not duplicate.” If you find such a key, call each bank where the deceased had a checking or savings account in order to locate the bank with the safe deposit box. Be aware that you might need a court order before the bank will allow you access to the box.
Third, try to locate business cards, and letters to or from any attorneys; one of them may have drafted the will. Don’t forget to go through all checkbooks – and bank statements – carefully and look for checks to law firms. You might have to go back many years because people often do not regularly revise their estate plans. Also make sure to check address books, calendars, letters, business cards, or notes for attorney names. They may have prepared the will or referred the deceased to someone else. If you have access to the deceased’s computer or phone, you can look for a copy of the missing will or phone numbers, texts, or emails with attorneys that might reveal where the will might be.
Fourth, if you cannot find any information about an attorney, the deceased person’s address book, letters, emails, etc. may reveal others who may have information about the will. Contact any other advisers that the person used, such as a doctor, financial planner, CPA, tax preparer, or insurance agent. One of them might know the attorney used by the deceased. You can also talk to friends and co-workers of the deceased. Often, they are witnesses to a will or they might have been told where the will was kept or who drafted it.
If, by your searches or talking with other people, you are able to find the name of the attorney who wrote the will, call them. If you know who the attorney is but can't locate their office or phone number call the Bar Association in the state where the attorney practiced (they may not be a local attorney) to find their current contact information. If the attorney who prepared the will no longer practices or you cannot find them, they may know who took over the attorney’s practice, and whoever took over the practice may have the will. In Oregon, the State Bar Association may know what became of a lawyer’s wills and will files, and If you are unable to locate the lawyer who drafted the will, you can call the Oregon State Bar and speak with Discipline Records personnel. If the bar is unable to help, contact the Professional Liability Fund. The Bar may know who took over the practice or may know where the attorney’s records are stored if the attorney passed away.
Even if you have not been able to find out who the lawyer was that wrote the will, or if so, still have not been able to locate it, you can contact the probate court in the counties where the deceased has lived or worked to determine whether the will was filed or registered with the probate court.
If you still cannot find the will, your next step should be to contact an attorney who understands estate planning and probate. Law firms such as ours are experts in these matters and may be able to help you find the original or a copy of the will or to determine how the estate will be settled without a will.