What is a will and how to check it
A will is a legal document that sets out how a person wants their property and personal belongings to be passed on when they die. If you and the deceased were joint owners of the property, their will only relates to their share of the property and personal belongings.
The will usually also names the ‘executors’, who are the people the deceased wants to be responsible for carrying out their wishes and sorting out their estate. If you were close to the person who has died, it is possible that you might be named as the executor in their will.
Can will’s be changed?
A person’s will can be changed at any time before they die. So it’s important not to make assumptions. Even if the person who has died told you what was in their will, they may have changed their minds and made a new will before their death.
How do I know if there is a will?
The person who died may not have told you that they had made a will or where it is kept. This doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Writing a will can be a very personal thing and some people don’t even tell those closest to them about it.
How can a will be found?
If you think the person who died had a solicitor, you should try to find out the name and address of the solicitor and phone them up. Solicitors keep records of the wills they have made and can easily trace whether or not they hold a will.
Similarly, the deceased may have used a bank as their executors, or may have informed their own bank of their arrangements.
If you don’t know where to start, you can ask any solicitor to put an advert in a legal magazine to find out if any other solicitor knows about the existence of a will. The solicitor you speak to will be able to tell you more about this.
What if there is no will?
If someone dies without leaving a will, or the will cannot be found, the rules of intestacy give certain relatives of the deceased the right to inherit property or personal belongings. You may be able to inherit property in this way if you are the deceased person’s spouse, registered civil partner, or close member of the family as defined in the rules of intestacy. Cohabiting partners cannot normally inherit under the rules of intestacy but may be able to apply for financial provision from the estate. You will need help from a solicitor if you are in this situation.
What if the property has not been left to me in the will?
If you are married to, or in a civil partnership with, the person who died but the house was not left to you in the will, you might be able to argue that you are entitled to a share because you have other rights under the law. You should contact a solicitor to find out more.
If you are not the spouse or civil partner of the person who has died and the house has not been left to you in the will, you may no longer have any rights to remain in your home and should get advice as soon as possible. A local advice centre can check whether you may be able to claim a proportion of the estate in other ways and can explain any other options you may have.
Where can I get more information?
See the Directgov Guide to wills and probate for more information.