Dear Karen, My friend passed away recently. I helped him with the farm and at home for the years prior to his death when he was suffering with ill health. He promised me he would leave me something in his will. I have not heard anything about whether he left a will or not? How can I find out?  Thank you for your letter. I am sorry to hear about your friend’s passing. You need a probate solicitor.

Locating the Will

The solicitor who prepared the will retains the original will.

Your friends’ relatives will normally know where he made his last will, and they will inform the probate solicitor of the death.

In some cases, the relatives may not know where the will is located, and the probate solicitor that he dealt with will write to all the local solicitors, seeking confirmation as to whether or not they hold a will for your neighbour.

It is possible also that your neighbour did not leave a will, despite his assurances to you.

If a will is located, the probate solicitor will contact the executor named in the will, and advise him or her that they have been appointed as executor.

Probate –  Administering the Estate

The executor will then extract a grant of probate to your neighbour’s estate. Probate is the legal term for a procedure that gives a person, chosen by your friend, authority to carry out his wishes as set out in his will. In order to administer the estate, it is necessary to apply to the High Court for authority to deal with the assets. The document that issues is known as a grant of probate.

When your friend died, his or her assets became frozen, and a grant of probate is necessary to administer the estate. Generally, bank accounts and land cannot be dealt with until such time as the grant of probate issues. If he died without leaving a will, a grant generally is still required; this is known as a grant of administration intestate. It is for the executor to administer the estate in accordance with your friend’s wishes, as specified in his will. Usually you will get a letter to tell you what the will specified, in relation to your inheritance only. At this stage, you are not entitled to a copy of the will, unless the executor gives permission.

Once the will is lodged in the Probate Office, it will become a public document which anyone can examine. You can obtain a copy of the grant of probate and/or the will from the local Probate Office on payment of a fee, either by visiting the Probate Office, or a postal request. If you do not know whether a grant of probate has issued, you can make enquiries with the local Probate Office. It may be the case that it is not necessary to take a grant of probate, in which case it would not be available from the Probate Office, in the case of very small estates where the proposed beneficiaries are clearly identified. It is occasionally possible for assets comprised in the estate to be released without obtaining a grant of probate, for example, if there is no real property such as a house, land etc, and only a small amount in a bank.

A grant will always be required where your friend owned a house or land in his or her sole name. If the land was held jointly with another person, your friend’s share would fall to the surviving owner automatically. If you were left a share in the residue of the estate, it may not be possible to quantify how much you will receive until the estate is almost finalised.

If you are entitled to a share in the residue, you are entitled to receive a letter at the outset from the solicitor dealing with the estate, telling you what the costs of administering the estate will be. Once the estate is administered, you are entitled to receive the executor’s account, which sets out all the sums involved and what monies, if any, are due to you.

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