If you are curious as to what may be contained in someone’s will and/or trust agreement, the ease of accessing those documents for copying may depend on whether the person is dead or alive. The will of a deceased person, known as the decedent, may be somewhat easy to locate, but obtaining a copy of a trust agreement, even after death, may be more difficult.
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Ask the person whose will you would like to see for a copy of her will and/or trust if she is living. People often lock their wills and other important papers somewhere secure such as in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe in their homes. You can be assured that you will only have access to those documents if that is the person's intent. If you happen to be a beneficiary under any trust that was established by this person, you may have been given a copy of the trust agreement at the time it was prepared.
Visit the probate office in the county where this person resided in the event she is deceased. Generally, wills must be filed for probate in the decedent’s county of residence. The clerks in the probate office should be able to assist you in locating the estate file so that you may view and obtain copies of the will and related court documentation. In the event that property is in a trust, it may be more difficult to obtain a copy of the trust agreement. Trust agreements are generally not filed for record nor are they viewable to the public. If the trust that was created, however, was a testamentary trust established by the will, the terms of the trust may be included in the will itself.
Check with the probate office in the county of a state where the decedent may have established dual residency and ask for a copy of the will. The decedent may have been a part-year resident in one state while having a summer or winter home in another. State laws may have required that she probate her will in both states of residence; therefore, a copy of her will containing any testamentary trust provisions could be obtained from either county’s probate court.
Visit the probate office where any ancillary probate may have been required. If the decedent resided in one state, but owned property in several other states, ancillary probate may be required in every state where she owned property. Ancillary probate, however, may have been postponed until such time that her secondary property is ready for sale. You may wish, however, to check the probate office in other counties where the decedent’s property is located even though she did not reside in that state. If an ancillary probate proceeding has been filed, you should be able to obtain a copy of her will.
Tips & Warnings
Some counties may have an online probate court site where you can search to verify if an estate exists.
References & Resources
- Florida Estate Planning Lawyer Blog: Ten Florida Estate Planning and Probate Tips - 2008
- Evans-Legal.com: How to Probate a Will in Pennsylvania
- Mercantile Bank: Frequently Asked Questions
- Legal Counsel for the Elderly: Definitions
- Probate Judges Manual: Chapter 9 - Real Property as Part of Estate
- Glenn Law Offices: Ancillary Probate
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images