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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Where do you look for someone's Will?

Fairly often, we hear from individuals who are looking for the Will of someone who has passed away. Sometimes they aren't really sure whether the person ever made a Will or not, and in other cases they are positive that there is a Will but they just can't find it. Sometimes they even have a photocopy of a signed Will and can't find the original. In almost every case, the person doing the searching believes that he or she is the executor of the deceased person's estate.

The original Will is required in order to apply to the Court for a Grant of Probate. It is possible that a photocopy can be probated, in certain circumstances, and only if you can satisfy the Court that you really did look in every reasonable place for the original Will. In fact, if you want to probate a photocopy, you will have to swear under oath to the fact that you made an extensive search.

In Alberta we do not have a public or government registry or depository for Wills, though some other provinces do have that.

The following are some ideas about where to look for someone's Will if they are deceased. Keep in mind that if you are not the executor named in the Will, you have no right to have or even see the Will. If it turns out that the executor named is already deceased, others may then become entitled to have the Will for the purpose of applying for probate or administration.

- Check any safe deposit box owned by the deceased;

- Check all filing cabinets and safes in the deceased's home;

- Check filing cabinets at the deceased's office or shop (this will of course require the cooperation of the deceased's employer, for privacy reasons);

- Ask the manager of the deceased's bank to check with the trust branch of the bank. Not all banks have a trust branch, but some of Canada's top banks do. The trust branch keeps a fireproof vault of original Wills belonging to customers who have requested that service;

- Call any lawyer or law firm that you think the deceased dealt with, even if it appears that his or her dealings were for unrelated matters like a house purchase or divorce;

- If you have a copy of the Will but not the original, look at the signatures on the last page to see who the witnesses were. Most often, one of the witnesses is a lawyer. If so, you can find that lawyer or his or her firm and call there;

- If the lawyer listed on a Will is retired, call the Law Society for your province or territory. You may be given the lawyer's phone number. Alternatively, you may be advised of which lawyer or firm took on that lawyer's files when he or she retired;

- Call any accountant that you believe the deceased might have worked with;

- Call the deceased's ex-husbands or ex-wives to get the name of any lawyer that might have done a Will for them in the past;

- Call the Office of the Public Trustee;

- If you think the Will was very old, check with the Clerk of the Court of Queen's Bench. Though there is no current depository, there was one at one time and there is always an off chance that the Will you're looking for is there;

- Advertise in publications that lawyers read. Law firms that store original Wills check these publications on a regular basis to make sure that if any of the Wills in their vault belong to someone who has passed away, the executor is notified.

Good luck in your search.

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