The last will and testament of a relative or ancestor can be a precious document. They can not only tell you about the lives of your relative, but they can also tell you about their friends, family and who they may not have been so keen on.
This post may contain affiliate links. I will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through an affiliate link.
To find a will though may seem, at first, a tricky thing to do. If you are not familiar with the law then locating exactly where you can find it may feel like an insurmountable task. However, finding a will can in fact be not as difficult as it might first seem.
Wills are public records and so once a will has gone through probate anyone can request to see it. All you need to do to find the will is to know where to search. By reading this piece you will be certain to be able to locate exactly where the will you want to see is.
Don’t Forget To Try The Obvious
It may seem silly but trying the most obvious root to finding a will can often not only be the quickest but also the easiest.
Simply searching the person’s name and “last will and testament” or even simply “will” can often help you locate the will of a family member.
This is because, particularly with those relatives who have been deceased for a long time, family members will often post their will online for other relatives to see.
Sometimes they will be shared on individual personal genealogical websites or even in certain Facebook groups. Whilst it might seem so obvious as to not be worth trying it can often yield the best result.
Checking Online Archives
Checking online archives is the next best step for locating a will. Archives are often crucial for genealogists if they want to locate a missing relation’s will.
Sites like Ancestry and FamilySearch have hundreds of thousands of wills that are easily searchable, and the digitized records are often of better quality than if you saw the will in person.
It is important when searching these archives however to make sure you have information besides a name. The date of death or location of death will save you a great deal of trouble.
Narrowing your field of search can be particularly useful online given how online archives can often be rabbit warrens for researchers.
Check The Local Archives
If the appropriate will is not available online, then it is important to check your local county courthouse. Wills are often stored at county rather than state archives and courthouses meaning it is easier to find a will of a relative if they lived by.
This can of course cause problems if you are looking for a will of a relative who lived some distance from you.
If this is the case then rather than going all the way to the courthouse, unsure as to whether the right will is there or not, it is best to phone to the local county records office.
Local officials are often very helpful and can be a source of important local knowledge if you are stuck with how to find your relative’s will.
Contact Local Lawyers
Whilst it might seem like a long shot if you know your relative produced a will with a particular lawyer or firm of lawyers then you may be in luck.
Depending on when you are searching for your relative’s will and how long the law firm has been in existence, you may be able to find a copy of the will with them.
Although not all lawyers will keep records dating back to a particular period, some do. In particular, if your relative made their will with a family firm of lawyers then they are more likely than not to have kept a copy of the will on file.
This will be particularly likely if the firm regularly dealt with your relative and other members of your family.
Check Family Documents
Though copies of wills aren’t always retained by the family alongside other documents, sometimes they are. This is often the case in families that are already interested in family history or are concerned about ensuring that a copy of the will exists within the family.
Looking through your family’s records can seem like a tedious task but if you believe it possible that a will exists amongst them it is always worth looking for.
Wills have often turned up in the most unusual of places and therefore checking documents can be a useful step.
Understanding A Will
Once you have located your will it is important that you fully understand it. Some aspects of the document will likely be in technical legal jargon that might be difficult to understand.
Make sure that you can contact someone or search the internet for certain terms so that you have a clear idea as to what the will means in its entirety.
Why Should You Look For A Will?
You may be wondering why it is worth looking for a will. As mentioned earlier in this piece, wills are a treasure trove of information.
They contain not only information relating to a deceased person’s estate but also aspects of their character. A will can tell you a lot about a person and truly bring them alive in a way that a census or birth record might not.
A will can also be useful for understanding a family tree. If you are trying to figure out how various members of your family are related to one another a will, or a series of wills can often be vital in explaining the complex web of family relations.
This aspect of wills can sometimes be overlooked by family historians, but it shouldn’t be.
Wills will tell you who is the child of whom or even where your ancestor was born. Combined with other archival material, last wills and testaments can uncover all kinds of information that you might otherwise have thought lost to time.