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

James P. Peterson Attorney at Law April 5, 2024

Old man writing his last will on paperLosing a parent is one of life's most difficult challenges, and dealing with the legalities of their estate can add an extra layer of stress during an already emotional time.  

One of the first questions many people have is whether their parents had a will and, if so, how to locate it. Fortunately, James P. Peterson Attorney at Law can guide you through the process of finding out if your parent had a will and what to do next. 

How to Find Out if Your Parent Had a Will

Discovering whether your parent had a will can provide clarity and direction during the process of settling their estate. Here are steps you can take to find out: 

  • Talk to Family Members: Begin by asking close family members if they are aware of a will. Your parent may have discussed their estate planning with someone. 

  • Check Your Parent’s Important Papers: Look through your parent’s files for any stored wills or estate planning documents. Common places include a home office, safe, or filing cabinet. 

  • Contact Your Parent’s Attorney: If your parent had an estate attorney, reach out to them. Lawyers often keep copies of their clients’ wills or can direct you to where it might be stored. 

  • Search Safe Deposit Boxes: If your parent rented a safe deposit box, it’s possible the will was stored there for safekeeping. Accessing this may require a court order depending on your bank. 

  • Check With the Local Probate Clerk: Some individuals file their will with the probate clerk for safekeeping. Contact the probate clerk in the county where your parent lived to see if a will was filed. Wills are often filed with the clerk before someone dies for safekeeping. However, the clerk will not know when the person dies and it is still up to the heirs to retrieve the original will from the clerk. 

  • Hire a Professional: If you’re unable to find the will through these means, consider hiring a probate attorney or a private investigator who specializes in locating legal documents. 

Following these steps can help uncover whether your parent had a will, paving the way for a smoother estate settlement process. 

Determining the Validity of Your Parent's Will

Once you've located your parent's will, you will need to determine its validity to make sure it can legally dictate the distribution of their estate. The validity of a will in Texas hinges on several key factors, as outlined by state law: 

  • Proper Execution: For a will to be deemed valid, it must have been properly executed or signed. In Texas, this generally means that the will must be in writing, signed by your parent (the testator), and witnessed by at least two individuals over the age of 14 who are not beneficiaries. 

  • Testator's Capacity: The testator must have been of sound mind at the time the will was created. This means your parent understood the nature of the act, knew the extent and value of their property, recognized the natural beneficiaries of their estate, and understood how these elements were being distributed under the will. 

  • Voluntariness: The will must have been made voluntarily, without coercion, duress, or undue influence from another person. 

  • No Revocations: The will is considered valid unless it was revoked, replaced, or amended by a later will or legal document. 

If there's doubt regarding the validity of the will, or if it's being contested by family members, it’s advisable to seek the guidance of an estate planning attorney. They can provide professional advice on the matter and represent your interests in probate court if necessary. Validating your parent's will is a crucial step in the estate settlement process, providing a clear path to executing their final wishes legally and respectfully. 

Facing the Possibility of No Will

Facing the possibility that your parent did not leave a will can feel daunting and bring about its own set of challenges and considerations. 

Intestate Succession 

If no will is found after a diligent search, your parent's estate will be subject to intestate succession laws. Intestate succession laws are a set of statutes that determine how assets will be distributed when someone dies without a will, usually dividing assets among the closest relatives in a set order. 

In Texas, for instance, if the deceased was married, how the assets are divided depends on whether the property is considered a separate or community property, and whether there are children, parents, or siblings. Separate property belongs solely to the deceased, while community property is everything acquired during the marriage. Without a will, the estate's division follows a hierarchy, typically starting with the surviving spouse, children, parents, and then siblings

Understanding these laws is crucial for those navigating the estate of a deceased loved one who did not leave a will, as it affects how their assets will be legally distributed among their heirs. 

Role of the Executor or Administrator

When there's no will, the probate court will appoint an administrator (similar to an executor) to handle the distribution of the estate according to state laws. This process can be more time-consuming, expensive, and challenging without a will, but it’s not insurmountable with the right help. 

Preparing for the Future

Losing a parent and dealing with their estate can be overwhelming. By following these steps, you can find out if your parent had a will, which is vital for managing their estate and honoring their last wishes effectively. Remember, it's always helpful to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney for guidance through this process, helping you fulfill your duties correctly and with as little stress as possible.