Many families will begin the probate process not long after losing a loved one. The law requires the person holding the will to file it with the probate court within 30 days after death.
However, the first step is to find the will. If your loved one did not leave behind any instructions about where to find it, this is often easier said than done.
Where would a will commonly be?
In California, individuals cannot file their will in advance with the local probate court. So, you will not find the original will or a copy at the probate court.
However, there are other common places where individuals frequently store their wills and other estate planning documents, including:
- A safe deposit box
- A safe or lockbox within the home
- Locked drawers or filing cabinets
- Their attorney’s office
Perhaps you know of odd places your loved one stored other important documents or even money, such as in the pages of a particular book on their shelf. It is worth looking in those locations as well.
What if you still cannot find it?
Sometimes, the will gets lost among other documents. In other cases, it might not have existed in the first place. Regardless, there are times when family members simply cannot find their loved one’s will. In these cases, then your loved one’s estate will be subject to California’s intestate succession laws. This generally means:
- The law will determine who the executor or representative of the estate will be
- The estate will be distributed based on these laws, and not necessarily how your loved one wanted it to be
There are ways to avoid this kind of situation. For example, a trust can help secure a loved one’s wishes and help families avoid intestate succession. Additionally, finding a trust is often easier than finding a will. We will further discuss the details of how a trust might help in Part Two of this post.