Can I Use a Copy of a Will?
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
August 24, 2021
BARRY HAIMO: In probate proceedings, you do in fact need the original will. However, if you have a copy and the original will cannot be found, that can be used under most circumstances.
In the age of computer crashes, missing files and electronic snafus, you may have consider what happens if an original will goes missing. Can you use a copy of a will?
It can be very difficult to prove the validity of copy of a will in court. So it’s important to have an original version of a will. Probate courts want the original document and will not accept a copy if the location of the original is known.
The Importance of an Original Will
Unfortunately, the process of proving a copy of a will is legitimate is costly and time-consuming. The decedent’s attorney may be in possession of the original will, or he or she may be aware of where the original copy is located. And you should check to see if the deceased person had a safe deposit box. If this is the case, you may need to get a court order in probate court to access it.
If the will is missing because the will-maker revoked it, Florida’s intestate laws will determine who inherits from the estate and all other fiduciary appointments as well.
Using a Copy of a Will
If you can only find a copy of the will, and not the signed original version, you may be able to argue before the court that the copied document should be accepted.
You might need to provide a good explanation for why the original document cannot be found. And you may be asked for evidence that the deceased individual did not at any point change his or her mind about the contents of the will.
What if you suspect that someone has the original will in their possession but is refusing to produce it? Before you talk to anyone, you should consult with a lawyer about the next best step. Your attorney may be able to get the probate court to enter an order compelling that person to deposit the will to the court or face contempt charges.
If There Is No Valid Will
In some cases, you may not be able to find any will at all. Or perhaps you were able to find a will that was revoked before the decedent passed away. In this case, you may be able to prove to the court that the will that was in effect at the time of death was lost.
You might even be able to prove what the will said, perhaps through testimony from the deceased person’s attorney or spouse. The court may accept the alleged terms of the will at the time of death in this situation.
In any situation where the original or a copy of a will cannot be located, you will need an experienced estate attorney to help you through the process. Haimo Law is reliable, approachable, honest, hard-working and attentive and can help with any needs regarding wills, trusts, probate, asset protection and business planning.
Originally published 05/18/2015. Updated 08/24/2021.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
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