I get lots of questions about when you can challenge a will and many people want to know what right they have to see a will. In simple terms, you have no right to see a will while the person who wrote it is alive. However, once they have died there are various ways you can see a copy of a will. Read more on how to find a will
Q. Who has the right to see a copy of a will?
A. The only people who have the right to see a copy of the will 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.
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. Although, as solicitor Gary Rycroft from Joseph A Jones solicitors explains, in some cases it’s good practice. œIt’s a good idea to let someone 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’re just leaving £2,000 to someone, we wouldn’t show them a copy of the will.
Q. We don’t know whether or not our gran had a will. She talked about it but she was quite private about her money and no-one knows for sure. How do we find it?
A. Unfortunately, in the UK there’s no national register of wills. 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 to contact solicitors based near your gran or to contact any that she might have had dealings with, according to Gary Rycroft. If she used a solicitor for a house move or divorce, they are worth contacting. If someone contacted us we would confirm whether or not there was a will. If they were the executors, they would be able to see a copy once they provided ID.
There is a National Will Register service, which has been endorsed by the Law Society. It can help you find a copy of a will.
SAVVY TIP: Never keep your will in a safety deposit box in a bank, as they won’t normally open a box without probate (which you can’t carry out until you know what’s in the will). You can store your will with the Probate Registry, for a flat fee of £20 (only in England and Wales). You have to fill in a form called PA7, which you can find on HM Courts service form finder website in order to store your will.
Q. When does a will become a public document?
A. 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. That means you can apply for a copy of it at the Probate Registry, although you’ll have to pay a fee (you have to fill in a form called PA1S to carry out a search).
In Scotland there’s a different system. You can see a copy of a will via the National Archives of Scotland. If the will is less than ten years old, you’ll have to apply to the Edinburgh Sheriff Court. You can find details of the court on the Scotcourts.gov.uk website.
In Northern Ireland you have to apply to The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (Proni) to see a copy of a will.
Q. I think I’ve been left something in a will but the executor – a brother I don’t get on with – won’t let me see it.
A. Unfortunately you don’t have the right to see the will. The first step should be to formally request a copy of the will from your brother. If he won’t let you see it, the next step is to do a ‘standing search’ at the Probate Registry (assuming the will was drawn up in England or Wales). This means you don’t have to know the date that probate was granted. A standing search lasts for six months and can be renewed. You can find details of how to do a search on the Gov.uk website.
Gary Rycroft says that you could prod a secretive relative into action by saying that you don’t think that a will was made, which would mean property and money would have to be divided according to intestacy law. This would mean that, for example, the children of someone who had died would inherit the assets equally between them. This might be enough to prompt someone to produce a copy of the will.
Q. My mum has died and my brother is an executor. He says there isn’t a will but I think he’s lying. What can I do?
A. This can be a difficult one. One option would be to issue a citation to compel the executor to accept or refuse probate (namely to get on and administer the will or to refuse to do it), in which case someone else can be appointed in their place.
If you want to stop probate going ahead, perhaps because you think someone is doing this on the basis of an old will, you can apply for a caveat. Caveats last for six months and cost £20. There’s more information on how to stop probate on the Gov.uk website.
Useful links: There’s information on how to find someone’s will on the Gov.uk website.
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