If you believe you have been left something by someone who has died, (or if you find that you have not when you expected to) you may wish to see a the last will of the deceased so that you can check its details and validity. In order to obtain a copy of a will you can apply to the Probate Registry for a search of Grants of Probate. An application can be made at any Registry for a fee of £10.
The Probate Registry will check their records and if a Grant of Probate has been made then any member of the public can obtain a copy of that Grant and the Will. If someone died intestate (without a will) then you will get a copy of the Grant of Letters of Administration. However, before probate has been granted the Probate Registry will have no record of the estate, and therefore will be unable to provide anything.
If no Grant has been issued at the time of the application, then a standing search will be set up. This is, in effect, a continual search for a Grant. If a Grant issues within the next 6 months, then the applicant will receive a copy. The standing search can be renewed on payment of a further fee.
Is there any way to get a copy of a will before Probate is granted?
Prior to probate being granted, the only people with a right to a copy of the will are the executors of the estate (although they may choose to share it with others). The beneficiaries receiving a fixed legacy under the will have no automatic right to a copy of it prior to Probate being granted and nor does someone who is not a beneficiary even if they feel that they should have been. However, if you are a residuary beneficiary then you are entitled to information relating to the administration of the estate, and in particular the proposed timescale for realisation of assets and the distribution of the estate.
Copies of the will may be found in the deceased’s home, or may have been kept by someone close to the deceased and so a beneficiary may be able to pursue this avenue of search (indeed, wills are often found by people who are clearing the deceased’s home, or who have been told by the deceased where to look for them).
If the deceased had a solicitor or will writer, then the will may be kept by them (but will only be released to the executors). Alternatively they may have lodged a copy of the will with the Court (but this is unusual) or with the will register, Certainty.
It is not always easy to find a will, and it may be absolutely crucial to do so. Most executors, if sensibly advised, will release a copy prior to probate being granted where there is a genuine dispute over whether it is valid (or to provide reassurance to beneficiaries). However, there is often suspicion if a will cannot be found, particularly where the deceased has led people to believe that there is a will, and the question of whether there should, therefore, be compulsory registration of wills is one that rumbles on.
If you require advice about your rights under a will, please contact a member of our contentious probate team.