Last will and testament © zimmytws / Fotolia

Dear Dr. Don,

How can I find out if my father had a will before he died?

His story was a bit complicated. Dad remarried after my mother died. He owned a house and his new wife also owned a house. Both sold their houses, then bought one together, and later sold it. So, there are some assets involved.

Thank you,

— Kathy Concern

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Dear Kathy,

I’m sorry for your loss.

If your father’s estate went through the probate process and a will actually exists, the papers were filed with the probate court. The will may be available to you as a public record.

Where there is no will, the deceased is said to have died intestate. Then, the estate passes to beneficiaries in a manner mandated by state law.

The estate could still be subject to the probate process even if there was no valid will.

Not all property passes at death by the terms of a will, or is subject to probate. Two examples include a named beneficiary on a retirement account or on an insurance policy. Assets held jointly with survivorship rights are another example, as are payable on death accounts.

Rather than going through all of this trouble, I don’t see any harm in being direct and asking your father’s widow if there is a will. If you are named in the document, it would be appropriate for you to be given a copy.

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