How do I find out if there was a Will when my dad died?

My family and I are estranged, so if I was in the Will, if there was one, I would never know.

Asked on May 13, 2016 under Estate Planning, California


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If you were a beneficiary in your father's Will, you should have been notified of your inheritance by the executor of his estate. To check on this, you can go to the Probate Court in the county where he resided at the time of his death. If it has been filed with the court, it will now be a matter of public record so anyone see it.  However, even though there was a Will, your father may have disinherited you. The fact is that children have no automatic right to inherit from their parents (although, as a general rule in such cases, there should be specific disinheritance language in the Will). Also, some assets can be transferred outside of probate. Therefore, if your father had a small estate, property may have been transferred by affidavit or the like. Further, some assets may have been held as "joint tenants with right of survivorship", in which case the other joint tenant would have received your father's share to property operation of law. Additionally, funds in an IRA, pension, 401(k), or other retirement plan bypass probate and typically go directly to named beneficiaries; the same holds true for any life insurance proceeds.

If, however, you were a named beneficiary in the Will and your were not notified so the estate was not properly distributed, then you most definitely have legal rights and can pursue the matter. Also, if there was no Will, then as 1 of your father's heirs you would have a right to inherit. At this point, you should contact the probate court in question and/or consult directly with a probate attorney. 

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