LAWLINK: Destroyed documents


Q: My mother purchased her home about 40 years ago. She has been in ill health recently, but when she was well and healthy she shredded some documents relating to the house and her will. She cannot recall who her solicitor was back then and, given her health, I don’t want to put her to the trouble of making a new will. Can you advise me as to next steps?

A: With regard to the property, it may well be the case that it is registered with the Property Registration Authority (PRAI). If that is the case then confirmation that your mother is the registered owner of the property can be obtained for a nominal fee from the PRAI. Indeed, you should visit your own solicitor as they should be able to furnish you with this information instantly, most solicitors now are set up on the PRAI Portal online.

If the property has a Registry of Deeds title, the process of proving your mother is the owner can be more difficult. Your solicitor can conduct a search with the Registry of Deeds to confirm when documents were filed, who acted for your mother at the time, etc.

If your mother had a mortgage, the bank may have the original deeds. If there was or is no mortgage on the property, the solicitor who acted for your mother may have retained copy deeds which may be helpful. If your solicitor conducts a search with the Registry of Deeds and finds documents registered there, that could ascertain who your mother’s solicitor at the time was also.

You should also, at this juncture, email the secretary of your local Solicitors Bar Association and ask them to circulate an email to all members in the area in which your mother lives asking them to search their records. This often yields results, so I would start there.

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As regards your mum’s will, it is very likely that your mum destroyed a copy only and the original will rest with her solicitor as, given the importance of the document, most solicitors would retain the original will and furnish a copy only to the person making the will.

If a search through the Solicitors Bar Association does not yield any result, I would strongly recommend, if your mother has the capacity, that she makes a new will as soon as possible.

I note you say that you don’t want to trouble her, but I suggest that it would be extremely important for her to make a new will to avoid what could be major complications down the line.