Q: Our father passed away recently and we can’t locate his will. We know that he created one but we can’t find it. How can we get a copy of it? Can the bar association help us out?
A: I would start by looking in the most obvious places. Did your father have a safe deposit box at a bank where he kept his important papers? If so, I’d start there.
If your father had a safe deposit box, and you can locate it, hopefully you are on it. If not, you can probably still get access to the box but it may take a little effort. I would talk to the bank to find out what they will require to grant you access to the box. My guess is that they will have a process that will detail what documentation they will require to open the box. Once you know, you may need to involve an attorney.
In the past, I’ve provided an affidavit to the bank that allowed the family to access to the box. If that doesn’t work, there is a legal action that you can file that will result in the court issuing an order granting you access to the box. Unfortunately, that procedure will probably require the assistance of an attorney.
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Also remember that if you have to get access to the box and you can’t find the key, it may require drilling. That will add to the cost of accessing the box. I haven’t had to drill a box in many years but if memory serves, there will be costs associated with it which may include the cost of a locksmith.
If there isn’t a safe deposit box, look in some of the other obvious places such as a home safe or the drawer in your father’s file cabinet or desk where he kept his important papers.
Also contact the attorney that drafted the will. He or she may have a copy in their possession. It seems pretty unlikely that they will have the original but they may have a copy.
You mentioned the bar association in your question. The local bar association may be able to help you locate the attorney that drafted it. I see emails from the local bar all the time requesting information on a decedent’s will. I’m not sure how often it pays off, but requests for information are not unusual.
You might also contact the county clerk’s office. County clerks maintain a will file that allows folks to deposit their will there for safe keeping. It’s certainly not a common practice but it’s possible that the will was deposited with the clerk.
If all else fails, start looking in places you know the will couldn’t be. Sometimes people get “creative” when storing their will for safe keeping. I worked on an estate where the family found savings bonds in a clothes hamper. People don’t always hide stuff like that but when they do, they can be pretty inventive.
Finally, if you can’t find the will, you may have to come to terms with the fact it might have been revoked. The presumption is if the will was in the creator’s possession and it can’t be located, they revoked or destroyed it.
Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.