Needle in a haystack....How to know if you are in a someone's Will.

Dear Len & Rosie,

For years, an uncle of mine would pull me aside and tell me I was named in his will. At one time, he told me the name of his lawyer, but being young and foolish, I lost it. Is there anything public that is recorded at the time of someone’s death in regards to their will? How do I go about finding out if there was anything he wanted me to have? He always told me in secret. He told me he didn’t want his wife’s children to get it all. All I want to know is if there’s a way to find out what his wishes were, and that they were carried out. How do I go about that if I don’t even know his lawyer’s name?


Dear Becky,

You’re looking for a needle in a haystack. You should probably ask his wife in as polite a way as humanly possible. Don’t call up a widow and start asking her for money. That’s in bad taste. But there’s nothing wrong with mailing her a polite note where you ask if your uncle had a will or a trust and whether or not you’re entitled to anything, because that’s what you heard. Then apologize for even sending the letter, but say you had to ask because you really needed to know. If your uncle has children, you can ask them too.

If you’re not willing to ask the hard questions, then you should understand that it’s extremely unlikely that your uncle’s will or trust leaves you anything until after your aunt has also died. Unless he was married to his wife for only a short time, he likely put her needs above yours or any of his other relatives.

If your uncle has a will, the will probably says something like this: “I leave everything to my darling wife, and if she dies before me, I leave it all to my niece Becky and the rest of my family tree, except maybe for that nephew who never calls and never writes.”  If your uncle’s will says that, then drop it. The wife got everything, and if you’re nice to her, she may leave you something upon her death out of the kindness of her heart.

While your uncle may have left a gift for you on his will, even if his wife is still alive, remember that his will controls the disposition of only those assets titled in his name alone, with no joint tenants or pay-on-death beneficiaries, or assets held in a trust. If he was married to his wife for a long time, it’s likely there’s nothing you’ll inherit, at least until your aunt’s passing.

You can check the superior court in the county where your uncle resided for a copy of his will. His original will should have been lodged with the court within thirty days of his death. You can also get a copy of the deed to his home to see if any of the property will be subject to probate, and you can also see whether or not your uncle and his wife created a trust. If the home is in the trust, the lawyer’s name may be found somewhere on the deed. Call the lawyer with your sensitive questions if you are not willing to ask your aunt.

Len & Rosie