19 December 2023

Where to turn if you can't find grandma's will

| Katrina Condie
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Amber Lawrence

BDN Lawyers solicitor Amber Lawrence says it is possible your family member may not have had a will. But if they did, the original would usually be held by a lawyer. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Sometimes, when a person passes away, family members have to turn their house upside down to find their ‘safely hidden’ will.

According to Baker Deane & Nutt (BDN) solicitor Amber Lawrence, if grandma dies and her will can’t be found, there are steps you can take to try and locate it.

“Not everyone knows if their older family member has seen a solicitor or if they have a will, and often they don’t know how to find out, or where to start looking,” she said.

“The first thing I’d say to do is look around the home and try to find where they keep their important paperwork. This could be in their office, TV cabinet or bedside table.

“Often people have everything in a cupboard close to the front door in case they have to evacuate in an emergency. So just look everywhere – even in the bottom of the wardrobe, in a shoebox or in the safe – if they have one.”

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If a thorough search of the home doesn’t uncover the lost will, Amber said the next step would be to start ringing around local law firms.

“It is possible they may not have had a will, but if they did, the original would usually be held by a lawyer,” she said.

Failing that, she said family members could reach out to the ACT Law Society which published a newsletter sent to members every second Friday.

“Often at the bottom of the email there will be a list of missing wills with names and suburbs and a request for anyone with documents related to that person to contact the law society,” Amber said.

“I’ve had clients whose parents have died contact me to help them track the will and I’ve emailed the law society.

“If you’ve turned the house upside down and contacted solicitors directly, that’s really the only way you’d be able to find a will.”

Amber said having a state or national system in place where every will was registered – like births, deaths and marriages – would help families find lost wills and ensure the estate was distributed correctly.

“People think wills have to be registered or listed somewhere, but they’re not,” she said.

“Losing a loved one can be a really challenging time and this is a hassle, and often an expense, that families shouldn’t have to be dealing with.”

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Amber always encourages her clients to notify family members that BDN is holding their will and to provide digital and hard copies to their executors and guardians of their children.

She also encourages family members to speak to their parents and grandparents about their will and take note of where to find it should anything happen to them.

“It’s a hard conversation to have with older family members, but it’s a really important one,” she said.

If lawyers retire or firms shut shop, wills are transferred to another solicitor and clients are normally notified. But at times, clients or their families can’t be contacted so the wills just sit in the new lawyer’s safe.

“Again, the ACT Law Society would be notified about any transfer of documents, so they could help locate missing wills,” Amber said.

She said if all else failed, appoint a lawyer to help find the will.

“As members, we can log into the law society website and add the details of a person whose will is missing and hopefully another lawyer will see it.

“We can do searches and make enquiries on the family’s behalf to try and track it down.”

If the deceased family member was a serving or former member of the defence force, Amber said it would also be worth checking with Defence Counsel Services to see if it had a copy of the will on its register.

For more information visit BDN.


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