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Will searches before death

There is no central registry of Wills for England and Wales (although one is contemplated). This is largely because a Will only becomes a binding legal document after the testator (“testator” is the legal term for a person who makes a Will) has died. Solicitors holding a Will for a person before death are not obliged to release it to anyone apart from that person or someone with his or her authority or permission.

Will searches after death

Searching for Wills before a Grant of Probate

A Grant of Probate is a document issued on behalf of the state (by a branch of the Court service) confirming that a Will is valid and above board. It is necessary to obtain a Grant of Probate in most instances before a Will can be administered and the estate distributed.

Once the Grant has been issued the Will becomes a public document (see below). There is no obligation to release a copy of the Will to anyone before the Grant. The only exception to this general rule is where a person brings a claim against the validity of the Will in which case he or she can obtain a copy as part of the pre action (or post action) disclosure process (and if necessary can seek a Court Order to force its release).

Searching for Wills after a Grant of Probate has been made

Following the Grant of Probate, the Will (and Grant) becomes a public document and a copy can be obtained by one of the following searches (see below). Further and in addition please note where there is no Will meaning that the deceased died “intestate” (ie without a Will), the Court Service confirm the position by issuing Letters of Administration, which again becomes a public document. Without it the estate cannot be administered and distributed (in accordance with the rules of intestacy – commonly to the deceased’s spouse and/or nearest living blood relative).


When you are certain there has been a Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration where there is no Will), search at:

  • The Probate Registry, Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42 to 49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP – contact them for further information but please note that there is a fee, currently £10 (cheque should be made payable to HMCTS), for securing copies of a deceased’s Will and Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration, as applicable)
  • The Postal Searches and Copies Department, Leeds District Probate Registry, York House, 31 to 36 York Place, Leeds LS1 2ED (T: 0113 389 6133) – again contact them for further information but the fee is £10 and cheques should be made payable to HMCTS

When you are not certain there has been a Grant of Probate – A “Standing Search” can be applied for to the Principal Registry of the Family Division (address above). This is a search which continues for a fixed period of six months so that if an application for a Grant is made within that period, a copy of the Grant and Will (or indeed Letters of Administration as applicable) will be sent to you. It must be renewed by application in the six month of its life. The fee for this search and renewal is also £10 (see above).