My father passed away recently. We all know he had a will but we are unable to locate it. Is there anything that can be done? – Probate Attorney – Portland, Oregon.

The attorneys with Nay & Friedenberg discuss what can be done when a family member passes away and their will can’t be found.

Historically counties allowed residents to file their wills at the courthouse.  Also, it was custom for the lawyer who prepared the will to keep it in his or her will ‘safe’.  Those rules and customs have long ago ended.  There is no centralized registry of wills, and lawyers generally give the original documents to the client.  This means that if an original will is missing, the family must diligently search for it.

Begin by trying to remember the name of the attorney who prepared the will. He or she may have it, have a copy or have notes on where your father intended to keep it.  If the lawyer is no longer practicing, the Oregon State Bar will keep a list of retired lawyers and to whom they passed their practices.

Look in all the usual places but also in less likely places.  A lot of folks keep their will in the freezer in a Ziploc bag because it’s virtually fireproof.  Some clients have a safe deposit box. You would need to check with various banks that are nearby or where your father banked (if that information in known).  Folks will commonly keep wills with other unimportant documents to throw off thieves.  Finally, there is a trend to keeping copies of documents in the ‘cloud’ of the internet.

If the original will is not found, but you do have a copy, it may be used in some instances.  The attorney will ask you to overcome the presumption that the original was destroyed with the intent of cancelling it.  If a copy cannot be found, a copy of an unexecuted will may work, but this is more difficult.  Finally, in the absence of a will, the State determines the distribution of assets based on kin relationship.  This may lead to unintended consequences, highlighting the importance of preparing and safeguarding an original will.

Dealing with a loved one’s estate can be a difficult time for the family. An experienced probate attorney can help. Contact the Probate attorneys with the Law Offices of Nay & Friedenberg in Portland, Oregon at (503) 245-0894 to set an appointment.

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