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How Do I Find Out if My Parent Had a Will?

Benoff Law Firm April 29, 2024

Lawyer meeting with senior couple about willThe passing of a parent is a profound and often overwhelming experience. Amidst the emotional turmoil, the practicalities of handling an estate require proper planning and understanding. The presence or absence of a will can significantly impact this process.  

If you find yourself asking, "How do I find out if my parent had a will?", you're not alone. Many adult children are faced with this question, as they prepare to take on the responsibilities left by their parent's legacy.  

This blog post will guide you through the intricate process of discovering your parent's will, the next steps to take when no will is found, and why preparing your own will is a crucial aspect of sound estate management. 

The Significance of a Will 

A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines the deceased person's final wishes regarding asset distribution, guardianship of minor children, and other related matters. It is a central piece in the process of estate planning and provides a blueprint for what your parent wanted to happen with their possessions and dependents after their death. 

Different Types of Wills and Their Requirements 

Wills come in various forms, each with its own set of requirements depending on the state laws. Some common types include: 

  • Simple Will: A straightforward document that designates how a person wants their assets to be distributed and to whom. 

  • Joint Wills: Used by spouses to combine their wills and express their shared wishes. They often limit the survivors' ability to change the will after their partner's death. 

  • Living Will: Not necessarily focused on the distribution of assets, a living will is a legal document that outlines a person's preferences regarding their health care and end-of-life medical treatment. 

To be considered legally valid, the will must meet the criteria laid out in the relevant jurisdiction's laws, typically involving signatures from the testator and witnesses. 

Steps to Finding Out if a Parent Had a Will 

Discovering whether your parent left a will involves a clear but potentially multi-step process, outlined below to guide you through this critical aspect of handling their estate. 

Contact the Right Parties 

The first step in determining if your parent had a will is to reach out to the appropriate individuals and institutions. This may include your parent's: 

  • Attorney

  • Financial advisor

  • Executor or estate representative

  • Local probate court

Search Through Personal Documents and Safe Deposit Boxes 

Gathering and examining personal records can be a sensitive yet important process. Look through your parent's papers, files, and correspondences to find a will or any indications of one. If your parent had a safe deposit box, that also serves as a common location to store wills and other important legal documents. 

Utilize Online Will Registries 

With the advancement of technology, online will registries have become increasingly popular as secure repositories for wills. Engaging with these services, when available, can provide electronic access to an official record of your parent's will. 

What to Do When No Will Is Found 

If no will is discovered, the process of intestate succession comes into play. This is the state's system for dispersing a person's property when they die without a will. The laws vary by state but generally prioritize spouses, children, parents, and siblings as the beneficiaries.  These laws are designed to reflect what most people might have wished about asset distribution, despite the absence of an explicit will.  

Under Pennsylvania law

  • If the deceased is survived by a spouse but no direct descendants, the spouse inherits the entire estate. 

  • If there are surviving children (or grandchildren, if the children have predeceased) from the decedent and the spouse, the spouse receives the first $30,000 of the estate, plus half of the remaining estate, with the descendants receiving the other half.  

  • If there are surviving parents but no descendants or siblings, the spouse inherits the first $30,000 plus half of the balance, and the remaining goes to the parents.  

  • When there is no surviving spouse, the assets are distributed among direct descendants, parents, or the nearest kin, in a priority determined by the state's laws.  

This structured approach by Pennsylvania provides a legal framework that aims to fairly distribute assets based on familial relationships, ensuring that close relatives are given priority in the absence of a will. However, this system may not reflect the decedent's wishes perfectly, which highlights the importance of having a well-drafted and updated will. 

The Role of the Court and Appointed Administrator 

The probate court will oversee the distribution of assets according to intestacy laws. An administrator, typically a family member or close relation, will be appointed by the court to manage the estate instead of an executor laid out in the will. 

Importance of Preparing Your Own Will 

The uncertainty and complexity that can arise when a parent passes away without a will should serve as a powerful motivation for adult children to plan their own estates. Doing so not only provides clarity and peace of mind for your loved ones, but also allows you to have a say in what happens to your belongings and legacy in the future. 

To ensure your own estate affairs are in order and to get the assistance you require in settling your parent's estate, don’t hesitate to reach out for legal support from the Benoff Law Firm.  

Legal Help When You Need It Most 

The process of finding out if your parent had a will can involve various channels, including legal professionals, personal documentation searches, and technological resources. Faced with the potential absence of a will, understanding intestate succession and the role of the probate court is critical.  

Needless to say, navigating the legalities of a parent's estate can be overwhelming. Seeking the counsel of a qualified estate lawyer, such as Edward and Bart Benoff of the Benoff Law Firm in Trevose, Pennsylvania, can provide you with the guidance and support you need during this challenging time. 

Planning and taking action now can alleviate future strain and uncertainty for your family. Act today to secure tomorrow’s peace of mind.