How can I find out if my father has created a will?

3 answers | Last updated: Nov 19, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father has dementia and he forgets a lot. I do not know if he has prepared a will yet. How do I find this information?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

I assume that you have access to your father's property, but were not able to find a will in the more obvious places at your his home and office: desk drawers, file cabinets, closets.

If that has left you empty-handed, there are a number of other places and people you can try. Some people lock away their wills in safe deposit boxes, even though survivors often do not have easy access to such a spot; check with local bank officials.

If you believe your father may have hired an attorney to help with any particular matter, you may also ask if that attorney helped with or knows of a will. And if you don't know whether he consulted a lawyer, you may consider putting a notice in a legal newspaper or state bar publication asking for an original or copy of your father's will.

Finally, check with the local probate court. While it is rare, some people file a copy with such courts while they are still alive, just for safekeeping.

Community Answers

Hedwig answered...

Don't trust your father's attorney just because he happens to trust that person. Our father's attorney specializes in working with a wealthy geriatric population and I believe she has played him like a fiddle. Once a person's judgment is impaired by dementia, they are vulnerable to manipulation, and there are people out there very skilled in doing it. My father has four adult children. The two who were most proactive when we saw that dementia was affecting his health and safety were viewed as a threat by the other two who have their eyes on the estate; to them it looks better to divide it two ways rather than four (or seven, because the other two of us have children, and our father previously expressed that he wanted to pay for all their college tuition, which he was capable of doing--but that will not happen now). We had trusted our father's attorney to look out for his interests, but she instead has done a great job of looking out for her own at his expense, and together with the other two siblings, has ensured that the two of us who provided the most help to him over many years were completely excluded, and are probably cut out of his will, despite his verbal wishes. No matter what you want to do as an ethical, supportive, loving child, others are motivated by greed and can push you out of the way, leaving the parent with dementia vulnerable. It's a terrible situation. From our family's experience I would never trust this kind of attorney again--she used her expertise for manipulative purposes, not to serve our father's best interests. What she did has irreparably damaged family relations and caused our father to live in circumstances that are superficially fine, but in reality are isolated and isolating. We have been libeled and slandered by his attorney, and we don't have the deep pockets to respond. We were warned by a nurse who has seen family dynamics like this--she warned us about what our siblings were up to, and we didn't believe it--we trusted them. We were naive. The nurse was right, but she was released from her duties because they knew she saw too much...

A fellow caregiver answered...

I too would suggest that if you are concerned about someone's mental ability to become proactive before they are under the influence of anyone with an agenda. My uncle, who had four children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, fell under the influence of an attorney associated with his church. His children had no idea that he had left everything to this church. He had not been a religious man during any part of his life--in fact he had used the church solely as a way of making business connections. After my aunt died (who had been a religious woman and involved with the church her whole life) he fell under the influence of this attorney and it became evident that he thought he could buy his way into heaven with the donation of his estate. At the time of his death he was sharing his home with two of his grandchildren who looked after him. It was such a disheartening situation that left a sense of betrayal with heartache and bitterness.