Occasionally we field calls at the PLF from lawyers or members of the public looking for a lost will. If you find yourself in this position, here are some excellent tips, courtesy of the Washington State Bar Association:
People frequently contact WSBA for help with finding a relative’s will, or finding the attorney who wrote it. This can be a real challenge, particularly when many years have passed since it was written. While WSBA does not keep wills, we can provide some tips for finding them.
If you have the name of the attorney who drafted the will, contact that person first. You can get the lawyer’s contact information from our Lawyer Directory.
Tips for Finding a Will
Some or all of these tips might help. Keep in mind that you don’t want to trespass when trying to find a will. If in doubt, contact the personal representative for the estate.
- Speak with other family members or close friends. These people often know if a will exists and where it might be.
- Contact the deceased’s bank(s) to find out if they kept a safe deposit box. Most banks have simple procedures for gaining access to a safe deposit box in the event of a death.
- If you have the authority, check the deceased’s files, computer, lock box and safe.
- Check address books or email programs for attorney names. They may have prepared the will or referred the deceased to someone else. You can look up current contact information for attorneys in our Lawyer Directory.
- If the attorney who prepared the will no longer practices or you cannot find him, call other probate attorneys in the vicinity. They may know who took over the practice, and whoever took over the practice may have the wills.
- Contact the probate court in the counties where the deceased lived to determine whether the will was registered.
- Contact a probate attorney for help. These attorneys have access to networks of other probate attorneys in the state, one of whom may have the will you are looking for.
- We do not keep records on who takes over an attorney’s files when they retire, or provide legal advice of any type.
How Oregon departs from these practices
- In some cases, the Oregon State Bar or Professional Liability Fund may know what became of a lawyer’s wills and will files. If you are unable to locate the lawyer who drafted the will, call the Oregon State Bar and speak with Discipline Records personnel. If the bar is unable to help, contact the Professional Liability Fund.
- Under proposed HB 2327 the Oregon State Bar would be authorized to retain the wills of a nonperforming attorney in digitized form. These digital copies would be admissible in evidence to the same extent as the original. (HB 2327 expands the ability of the bar to take custodianship of a nonperforming attorney’s practice.)
- Check with the circuit court where the decedent lived. In some cases, non-probated wills may be filed with the court for safekeeping.
More Tips from the WSBA
On a related topic, see Do You Keep Original Wills? Best Practices Say No. We concur!
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