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What happens when the original will can’t be found?

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2023 | Probate & Estate Administration |

In a typical Kentucky probate proceeding, the original copy of a decedent’s last will and testament must be produced. However, it’s possible that the original copy cannot be found, which means that a duplicate will need to be presented. Whether the duplicate is accepted depends on a number of factors.

All the beneficiaries must agree

The beneficiaries to the estate must agree that the duplicate copy represents the deceased person’s true wishes. Otherwise, a hearing will need to be held to determine if the will should be considered legitimate. If it is not, the probate judge will typically follow state intestacy laws. These laws stipulate who is entitled to assets within the estate if an individual dies without a valid will. Typically, assets go to the decedent’s spouse and children first before anyone else. Parents or siblings will inherit the estate if an individual has no living spouse or children.

The question of access

If there is reason to believe that a decedent didn’t have access to the original copy of the will, it will typically be accepted. In such a scenario, the burden will be on whoever is challenging the document to prove that it’s not legitimate. However, if there is reason to believe that the deceased had access to an original copy of their will, the burden will rest on whoever is claiming that the duplicate is legitimate to prove that this is true. This is because the court will assume that the original was destroyed in such a scenario.

Ideally, you will create multiple copies of your will and give one to your estate executor. Furthermore, your estate executor or another trusted party should know where to find the original copy of your will. This may minimize the risk that your final wishes won’t be respected during probate.