Copy Will – how to get one
A Last Will is a private document unless and until a grant of probate is issued. Once the grant of probate is issued, a Will becomes a public document and absolutely anyone can buy a copy Will then. You can order one online, see below for instructions.
The “testator” means the person who has written the Last Will.
“Personal representatives” means the people who administer the estate of the deceased.
“Beneficiary” means a person who receives any gift in the Last Will.
Copy Will: before the death of the person whose Last Will it is
A Last Will may be changed or cancelled at any time by the testator and it has no effect until the death of the testator. Many people do not understand this. To be clear, the contents of a Last Will are usually not relevant until the death of the testator. At any time before death, the document may be changed. A Last Will is a private document and while the testator is still alive, in general, no one other than the testator is entitled to see a copy Will. In particular, solicitors and professional Will writers are under a duty to keep their clients’ affairs confidential. There are circumstances in which a copy Will of a testator who is still alive may possibly be disclosed (for example to an attorney.) Specific legal advice would be needed about this as it is not usual, and specific authority under a Lasting or Enduring Power of Attorney is generally needed – or a Court Order.
Copy Will: after the death of the testator
The personal representatives are responsible for discovering the assets and liabilities of the estate. They must calculate and pay any Inheritance Tax due, then apply for a grant of probate. ( Letters of administration if there is not a Will or if the people named in the Will as executors are unable or unwilling to do the job.) Then they must administer the estate and finally distribute it. If there are ongoing trusts, then the Trustees appointed to run those trusts take responsibility for that part.
Sometimes it is not necessary to apply for a grant. This is when:
a) The person who has died had very few assets. Or
b) everything they owned was held jointly with someone whose share automatically passes to them (normally a husband or wife).
If the value of the estate is low, and no application for probate needs to be made, it is difficult for anyone to obtain a copy Will. This is because a will remains a private, and is not on the Probate Register, unless and until a grant of probate is made. However, the personal representatives will usually send a copy Will at least to the residuary beneficiaries (those who will inherit after all debts, expenses and any specific gifts have been paid out). People who are left a specific amount or gift are not entitled to a copy of the will or estate accounts, though they can abtain a copy of the Will and Grant anyway.
Copy Will: after a grant of probate is issued
Once a grant of probate (or letters of administration) has been issued, a Will becomes a public document and anybody can apply to have a copy Will.
An application for a copy of the grant and copy will may be ordered any District Probate Registry. But that is far from the easiest way of doing so – you can use the link above to order a Copy Will and (if requested) Grant online.
The application (by post or in person) should state the full name of the deceased, the date of the grant, the Registry where it issued, what copies are being requested and should include the proper fee.
If you don’t know when and where the grant was issued, or even whether there has been a grant at all, a search of the Probate Calendar may find it. The Calendar covers grants made from 1858 to date. Entries are made in the calendar in the year in which the grant was obtained but, as there is no time limit by which a grant must be obtained, this could not be the year in which the deceased died.
Information about searching for probate records, either personally (free of charge) or by post (for a fee which includes, if a grant is traced, the provision of a copy of the grant and any will) is available on the HM Courts Service website.
Alternatively, an application for a search may be made, in writing, to:
The Postal Searches & Copies Dept, York Probate Sub-Registry, 1st Floor, Castle Chambers, Clifford Street, York, YO1 9RG. You cannot telephone.
The application needs to give the full name, address and date of death of the deceased, and should include the relevant fee for the copy Will and grant.
If a search does not show a grant has been issued, this may mean that;
a) no grant was needed because of the size of the estate. Or
b) a grant has not yet been obtained. If the applicant considers that a grant might be issued at some time in the future, it is possible to conduct a “standing search” or to enter “a caveat”. These are technical procedures which are explained on other pages of the Probate Department site:
• What is a standing search? and
Information about fees payable are available from any District Probate Registry and on the HM Courts Service website