One of the first things that you need to do when someone died is to locate that person’s will so that probate proceedings can begin. How do you find a will in New York State?
Wills in New York state are not a public record. There is no registry that you can look at. Wills made in New York State are not filed with the court until the person dies. So it’s unlikely that the will is in a public place where anyone would have access to it.
Our office does not have the will and does not know where the will is. People call us all time asking where is the New York State will that they are interested in. This article offers some suggestions where to look. But we don’t actually know where it is or how to find your particular will in New York State.
In many cases, the testator tells the executor during his or her lifetime where it is that they can find the will. However, there are times where the location of the will is unknown, meaning that the executor may have to do a bit of investigating to find its whereabouts.
The first place to look for a New York State will is the house, apartment or safe deposit box of the person who died. The second place you can look is the estate attorney of the person who died. When an attorney drafts a will for a client, they sometimes keep the original, along with other documents, such as witness affidavits, in a safe place where the attorney and the attorney’s staff will always have access.
If the will wasn’t drafted very long before, finding the attorney, and therefore the will, probably will not be very hard to do, meaning that a phone call or two would be all that is needed to find the will. However, if the will was drafted years or decades before, there could be some issues. If the New York State estate attorney who drafted the will retired or passed away, the wills that attorney-drafted were most likely passed along to another attorney. While the decedent would have most likely been notified of who it is that now has the will, that person may not have passed that along to the executor.
If the former attorney is retired, how do I find a will in New York State? Tracking it down may still be a matter of a few phone calls. If that attorney died, however, finding the attorney who took over keeping the wills will be harder to find out. Contacting your local bar association may be a good start, as it is likely that someone there may know. If the attorney who drafted the will worked for a firm when the will was drafted that is still in existence, that firm probably would still have the will, regardless of what happened to the individual attorney.
One complication for the executor would be if either the will was never in the possession of the drafting attorney or if the decedent wrote the will alone. In a case such as that, the executor would have to look in what would be the most likely places for the will to be. Usually, wills are kept with other important papers, which means they could be with those papers at home in a place such as a safe or a file cabinet.
If the potential executor has to look through a safe deposit box at a bank in search of the will, he or she would need to file a motion with the Surrogate’s Court to have the box opened, unless the executor is an authorized user of that box.
If you looked at how do you find a will in New York State and came back empty-handed, and the will remains lost after all of these efforts, or perhaps there was no will in the first place, it is very likely that the estate would be treated as if the person died without a will, meaning that intestacy succession rules would apply.