Finding a Will 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.
Finding a will 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 called the “Probate Registry”) confirming that a Will is valid and above board (although please note that the Will can still be contested after the Grant has been made). It is necessary to obtain a Grant of Probate in most instances before a Will can be administered and the estate distributed. It is in effect the “licence” which allows the Will Executors to administer the estate.
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 of the Will as part of the pre action (or post action) disclosure process (and if necessary he or she 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 Probate Registry confirm the position by issuing Letters of Administration (although it is also sometime referred to as a “Grant of Probate”), 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).
What searches can I use to obtain a copy of the Grant of Probate and/or Will (after the Grant of Probate has been made)?
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 £1.50 (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 £1.50 and cheques should be made payable to HMCTS
- ON LINE at https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate – again the fee is £1.50 (and can be paid by credit card). This is by far the quickest service.
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 £3 (see above). The application form to use for this is PA1S (go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/find-a-will-or-probate-document-form-pa1s)
Thank you so much for all your hard work over the last number of months, I really do appreciate what you have done for me. It’s kind of strange the feeling that I have now as since January of last year when everything fell apart I have had a massive emotional weight on my shoulders the worry the feeling that at a moments notice my Aunt could have me on the street. All things that led to a version of myself that was a emotional shadow of what I once was. With what you have done you have helped my future and more importantly than that you have lifted the fears of what my Aunt could do of me. And brought fairness to the situation.Mr H – May 2017