How do you find a will when someone has died?

How do you find a will when someone has died?       

If someone in your family has died and you need to find the will, the decedent’s residence is the simplest place to check and the easiest to access. Many people keep their original will in a safe or fireproof box at home. However, if the will isn’t there, what do you do? Here are some additional places you should check and the steps to take.

1. Contact the county courthouse. In North Carolina, many counties allow you to store your will at the courthouse. To look for a will at the courthouse, contact the Estate’s Division in the Office of the Clerk of Court in the decedent’s county of residence. (For Mecklenburg County, the telephone number is 704.686.0460.) 

2. Contact the bank to check to see if the decedent had a safe deposit box. It is not always easy to open the safe deposit box when the owner has died but North Carolina has a procedure that allows certain people to access the box and check for a will or to inventory the contents of the box. When someone dies, his or her safe deposit box is “sealed” by the bank or other financial institution where the box is located. Even though the box is sealed, it is still possible to access and search the box for a will if you do it correctly. It is not advisable to enter a safe deposit box without following the correct procedure. North Carolina, General Statutes, Section 28A-15-13 permits a qualified person, the Clerk of Court, or the representative of the Clerk of Court to open a safe deposit box and search for a will or other testamentary documents or to inventory the decedent’s assets. If you need to use this procedure, an attorney can assist you with the arrangements.

What are the proper steps to take to open a safe deposit box?

A qualified person is defined as a person possessing a letter of authority, such as a letter testamentary or a co-rentor of the safe deposit box. Therefore an executor (personal representative) is a qualified person and may open and inventory a safe deposit box. When a qualified person opens the safe deposit box of a decedent, the law provides that the qualified person “shall make an inventory of the contents of the box and furnish a copy to the institution and to the person possessing a key to the box if that person is someone other than the qualified person.” Section 28A-15-13. This is just a brief summary of the process. To avoid liability and potential probate problems, it is important for a qualified person to understand all of the rules and follow the correct procedure.

But what if the will still hasn’t been located and there is no qualified person? In that case, it is still possible to check the safe deosit box but the Clerk of Court or the Clerk’s representative must be present when the box is opened. The clerk or the clerk's representative will open the safe-deposit box in the presence of a co-rentor with a key to the box and a representative of the bank or financial institution where the box is located. If there is no co-renter and the key cannot be found, the box may have to be drilled open. The bank will probably charge for this and arrangements should be made in advance. Once the box is open, the clerk will inventory the contents of the box and give a copy of the inventory to the bank and to any person with a key to the box. A will or other testamentary instrument found in the box may be removed but everything else should remain in the box until it has been inventoried and the personal representative follows the proper procedure for taking possession of the contents.

For more information about finding a will, acessing a safe deposit box, and beginning the probate process for a loved one, contact Nancy at 704-887-5242.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this post are for educational purposes only. The information offered in this post does not constitute legal advice and reading the information does not create an attorney client relationship with Nancy Roberts or the Law Office of Nancy L Roberts PLLC Firm. Before taking any action, you should always seek legal advice from an attorney you hire, who advises you based on your specific facts, circumstances, situation, and the appropriate governing law. 


Nancy Roberts
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