Ideally, an executor of a will has told their family where their will is kept. But this isn’t always the case. If you can’t find the will of your relative, things become more complicated at an already difficult time for the family.

The most common place people keep their will is in a safe deposit box at the bank. However, what happens when you get access to the box and there’s no will to be found?

  1. Think of other places the will may be kept

Did your relative have a private safe on their property? Maybe they kept all of their documents under their bed in a box. If the will isn’t anywhere at their home, then check with the law office where the will was drafted. Anyone who was a witness to the will may remember who the lawyer was, or even where the will might have been placed.

  1. Find a copy or earlier draft of the will

If you’ve looked everywhere and can’t find the will of your relative, the next option is to find a copy of the will. Even if the signed and legal will is not among the papers at your relative’s home, there’s a chance an earlier draft or photocopy is.

An early draft can provide guidance in the distribution of the deceased’s estate. The law allows a judge to declare a document a will if she is satisfied that it represents the deceased’s true intentions – even lawyers’ notes have been found to be a will by the courts. Speak with a wills and estates lawyer to learn more about the legalities of this scenario.

  1. Apply to be named an administrator

In the event you can’t find the will in any form, then the deceased will be considered to have died intestate—that is, without leaving a valid will. In this case, you can apply to the court to take on the duties of an administrator, which include taking an inventory of the estate, completing final paperwork, and taking control of and distributing assets. A wills and estates lawyer can provide guidance both in the application process and in acting as the estate administrator.