There are many reasons you might want to get a copy of a will. However, it is more difficult to get your hands on a copy of a will than you might think. Only a limited number of people in certain circumstances are legally entitled to receive a copy of someone’s will.
In this guide we’ll explain the processes you need to follow to get a copy of a will when someone dies.
We’ll give you insights into:
Whether you can request a copy of a will
How probate affects securing a will
If you have to pay to get a copy
If there is anything you can do if an executor refuses a request
How to get a copy of a will
In preparation for their death, many people leave a will to make their last wishes legally binding. In a will, an executor is named, this person is responsible for ensuring the person who has died has their estate distributed as they wish.
Before making the will legally binding, a solicitor will ensure it is valid. This is known as administering a will. At Lawhive, we can help you find a solicitor to help with administering a will.
The executor of a will is the only person that is legally entitled to see a will and read what’s contained in it. However, they can choose to send a copy to someone else, but they have no duty to.
In most cases you will have to ask the executor if you want to see a copy of someone’s will.
You will need to gather the following information:
The person’s full name
The date of their death
Their full address and postcode
If the person who has died (the testator) is your loved one and they haven’t passed on their will to the executor, you can do this if you can locate it. Start by looking in the place they keep their most important papers.
Their will should include details of the law firm that drafted it. This will come in handy if you’re unsure as to who the executors are, or how to deliver it. You can get in touch with the law firm responsible for the document and they will support you.
Who can request a copy of a will?
Generally, a will is a private document unless and until a grant of probate is issued.
While the testator is still alive, with limited exceptions, nobody other than the testator is entitled to receive a copy of the will.
Following the testator’s death, unless and until probate is granted, the will remains a private document, although the executors named in the will are entitled to see it.
The executors appointed by the will are the first people that will be provided the document. Firstly, they will be notified that they have been named executor and will be asked to confirm whether they are happy with this responsibility. Executors are most usually members of the legal community or family and friends.
Only the executors appointed by the will are legally entitled to read the will before probate is granted. If anyone else asks to see the will, the person or organisation storing it (such as a bank or solicitor) should not show it them or provide them a copy without the permission of all named executors.
If you are not a beneficiary or executor, the executor has every right to deny your request to see the will and most likely, will do so. In this case you are not entitled to see someone’s will before probate is granted.
Before probate is granted
An important differentiation to make when looking to receive a copy of a will is the timing. Can you request a copy or see the will before probate is granted?
Probate is essentially the process the executor triggers at the point of someone’s death to distribute their assets as set out in a will.
Not all estates go through probate. However, the majority of estates require the executor to apply for a grant of probate – a legal document that grants the executor the authority to administer a will.
Before probate is granted, only the executor of a will is legally entitled to see and read its contents. It's important to note that in some circumstances an executor can withhold money from a beneficiary.
Sometimes a will is held by a bank; they won’t have permission to show it to you, however, they can tell you who the executor is if they are named in the will. They can also tell you of any funeral wished laid out in the will.
After probate is granted
At this point, anyone can see the contents of a will as they are now publicly accessible.
To access a will, you should apply to the Probate Registry where you’ll have to pay a small fee.
The Probate Registry (England and Wales) is an incredible tool that allows you to search for the will of anyone who died since 1857.
New probate records are accessible online typically 14 days after probate has been granted.
If someone has died in the last six months, you should be aware that probate may not have been granted by the time you’re ready to search. Form PA16 is a request for a copy of probate and can be used if probate is granted in the next six months.
If there is no grant of probate
When there is no grant of probate, or it has not yet been registered, you can file a standing search.
A standing search will allow you to request to see a copy of the grant and the will before the application for probate has been made, and therefore before the grant has been issued.
If you are in a dispute about probate, you may want to read our helpful guide on probate disputes.
How much does it cost to get a copy of a will?
This depends on the circumstances.
If you want to download a copy of a will, Gov.uk will charge you £1.50 per download. This charge is required by law for the release of public documents. You can pay this online using a debit or credit card. When you request a copy of a will in this way, you will receive a copy of the grant of representation and the will if one exists.
You won’t be able to access a will straight away after ordering and paying for it. You will get an email when the will is ready to access. After you log in, the will is available to download for 31 days, so remember to download and save it on your computer.
If you are applying for a standing search, this will cost £3.
What can I do if an executor refuses to give me a copy of a will?
If you have contacted the executor for a copy of a will and they have refused, there are some positive steps you can take. As you know who has the will, you can issue an application to the Probate Registry for a subpoena. This forces the executor to send you a copy of the will if you have justifiable grounds to see it.
You may be concerned that the will is invalid - perhaps it was made under undue pressure, or the person didn’t have mental capacity when writing it. Or, you may feel that you should have been included in it.
In this scenario, you can issue a Larke v Nugus request to the solicitor who created the will. This is a set of questions posed to the solicitor and seeks more information on how a will was drafted, how it will be executed, and requests a copy of the will and the solicitor’s documents used to draft the will.
Get legal help with probate from Lawhive solicitors
If you’re looking for help from a solicitor with probate, from contesting a will to applying for probate, tell us about your case to get a free assessment from our legal assessment team. Our lawyers and solicitors are on hand to help you get fast, affordable advice online for fixed fees.