What happens to a will after death?

Where is the will?

What happens to a will after the death of the person who wrote it depends on where it is stored. A will becomes a public document after the death of the testator. This means that if it was being held by a solicitor you can write to them to have them release it to you, or if it was stored with the Probate Registry it can now be accessed through a search of their probate records. For more information about locating the will, please see our How to find a will page.

The provisions of a will do not automatically take effect; generally, they will need to be implemented by the will’s executors. For example, if a will says that you are going to inherit a house, the house does not actually become yours until the ownership is transferred by the executors. This process can take a long time, and any gifts may end up being reduced if there are any outstanding liabilities owed by the estate. This means that even if you have been left a gift, it is wise not to start spending it until it has actually been transferred to you. The probate process is explained in greater detail in our Probate section, including time estimates and the role of the executors.

What if the will is missing?

If the will cannot be found, or if a will was never created, the estate will be distributed according to the intestacy rules. Our avoiding intestacy page sets out the intestacy rules, and explains how they affect the distribution of the estate.

The situation may be more complicated on the discovery of a lost will. While the consequences are examined further on our page on the subject, if the grant of representation has not yet been obtained it is often possible to simply make an application using the will instead of applying the intestacy rules. However, if the property has already been distributed there may be a number of claims against the personal representatives for mistakenly distributing the estate.

There will be a similar result if a will is found after probate. If the grant of probate has already been issued, a judge or registrar may need to revoke the grant. Alternatively, if there is no change there may be no need to revoke the existing grant. Examples discussing when a new grant will be needed are included in our What happens if a will is found after probate page.

(If a term is in bold, that means it's in our Glossary.)