When the deceased’s will seems lost or missing – where to enquire?

lost original will, missing wills, When the original will of a deceased person can’t be found, the task of finalising their affairs and administering their estate becomes more complicated, time-consuming and costly.  It is therefore worthwhile to undertake methodical searches of the deceased’s residence, thoroughly searching high and low for a will or testamentary document, including the garage, shed and the like.  But what else can be done? Some suggestions follow as to where enquiries might be made.

Public trustees

A starting point might be to contact the public trustee in the state or territory where the deceased had lived, in case they had consulted them to make a will.  However using the public trustee does not necessarily mean that the will was stored with them, if a storage facility exists. If the deceased had lived in different states or territories, it make be worth checking with the public trustee in each jurisdiction.

At the time of writing, the Public Trustees in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia all provide will storage facilities.  How to enquire whether or not they hold the will of a deceased person is different in each case, see below.

In New South Wales, the NSW Trustee & Guardian’s Will Safe database can be searched online to see if they hold the will of a deceased person – click this link to make a Deceased Will Enquiry.

In Victoria, an enquiry can be made to the Victorian State Trustees Will Bank by using their online Enquiry form to see if they hold the will of a deceased person.  The Public Trustee in Victoria, called State Trustees have recently offered a Will & Powers of Attorney Register.  

State Trustees in Victoria report that already over 80,000 Victorians store their will with them in the State Trustees Will Bank.  So if you are searching in Victoria for a lost will of a deceased person who you  know resided in Victoria, make an enquiry to them..

In Western Australia, the WA Public Trustee provides a will storage facility called the WA Will Bank.  They won’t disclose whether they hold a person’s will without a valid written request from an authorised third party.  Contact the WA Public Trustee as to more information on the process first, on how to find out if they hold the will of a deceased person.

Law Societies – solicitors 

Some Law Societies assist their solicitor members to find out whether another solicitor or firm in that state/territory may be holding the will of a deceased person, see below.  For other states and territories enquiry could be made directly to their Law Societies as to any arrangements for tracking down missing wills.

The NSW Law Society does not keep a wills register.  Solicitors may place an advertisement in the monthly Law Society Journal which is available to practising lawyers in NSW along the lines of that below:

Would any solicitor, firm or person holding or knowing the whereabouts of a will, or other testamentary document of (insert name of deceased) late of (insert their address or if recently moved, formerly of previous address) who died on (insert date) please contact (state your name or name of your lawyer and contact details).

To place an advertisement in the Law Society Journal visit their website at www.lawsociety.com.au/advertise.

The South Australian Law Society does have a centralised, online wills register containing the location of South Australian Wills – providing they have been registered with this service.  It was established to permit legal practitioners to track down lost wills and is for the use of solicitors only.

The Law Society of Tasmania assists people locate the whereabouts of a missing will or deed by emailing Tasmanian law firms with details of the missing document, once they are provided to them.  More information on this service can be obtained from the Law Society.

Lost or missing wills – not that uncommon

The difficult situation of an original will of a deceased person being lost or missing seems to occur more often than one would think, from the number of monthly advertisements by solicitors regarding the whereabouts of a lost will in the New South Wales Law Society Journal. And the reported weekly enquiries about lost wills to the SA Law Society which prompted them to establish a central register.

Different scenarios can lead to a missing will.  Law firms can change names, are bought, sold, a sole practitioner retires, people move house and so on.  Some people, perhaps for good reason, go to great lengths to hide their original wills, use safe deposit boxes at banks and elsewhere, or leave with their solicitors, if not keeping at home. Read more on  storing a will here. Informing your  executors as to where the original will is kept or its whereabouts is helpful to avoid delay in estate administration.  

B Stead
BHS Legal
Last updated 2 June 2017.

Important notice: This article is intended for general interest and information only. It is not legal advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for legal advice. Always consult a legal practitioner and/or other professional for specialist advice specific to your needs and circumstances, and rely on that.

© BHS Legal

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