How to Locate a Last Will & Testament

By Marie Murdock

People have various reasons for finding a Last Will and Testament. For example, you may want to know if you have been named as a devisee or beneficiary, know who was named to handle the affairs of the estate for the purpose of negotiating a contract on estate property, or just be plain curious about the affairs of a friend or relative. The testatrix, or maker of the will, may not have divulged the will's location prior to her death, but this should become public record once she is deceased and the will is filed for probate.

People have various reasons for finding a Last Will and Testament. For example, you may want to know if you have been named as a devisee or beneficiary, know who was named to handle the affairs of the estate for the purpose of negotiating a contract on estate property, or just be plain curious about the affairs of a friend or relative. The testatrix, or maker of the will, may not have divulged the will's location prior to her death, but this should become public record once she is deceased and the will is filed for probate.

Step 1

Contact the county probate office where the deceased resided at the time of her death. Give the office clerk the name of the deceased and the date of her death. He may be able to look up the information on his computer to let you know whether or not a will was or is being probated, or administered by the court. In most circumstances, if an estate is found and the file has not been sealed by the court, you should be able to obtain a copy.

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Step 2

Check other counties’ probate offices where the deceased may have owned property in the event your earlier search did not locate a probate filing. Generally, if an estate is probated, it will have to be probated in each state where the deceased owned property. In most circumstances, if you find an estate filing there, you should be able to obtain a copy of the will.

Step 3

Hire an attorney to petition the appropriate court to allow you to access any safe deposit box the deceased may have had, to look for her will if you are her only heir or are confident that you are a named beneficiary under the will. She may have indicated to you prior to her death that she wished for you to act as her personal representative, yet neglected to divulge the location of her will. Your attorney will have to prove to the court that you have made a diligent effort to locate any heirs or additional devisees and notify them of the court proceeding, before entering an order allowing you to access the deceased's personal effects.

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How to Locate a Person's Last Will & Testament

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How Can I Get a Copy of a Will?

TV shows often portray a lawyer reading the last will and testament to the assembled family. In real life, you usually have to track down a copy of the will yourself. It is easier to get a copy of a will once the maker is dead. You can only see the will of a living person if she agrees to show it you. Once the maker is deceased, however, the will is generally filed with the court for probate. Like most court documents, the vast majority of probated wills are available for public viewing and copying.

How to Find Wills

Wills not only provide information about heirs and inheritance, but also help those tracing family history or establishing a chain of property ownership. Prior to a testator's death, his will is a private document and you "find" it only with his permission. The court does not open wills of a living person to public review even if the testator filed them with the court for safe keeping. From the date the court accepts a will for probate, however, the will becomes part of the court file and accessible to the public. The more recent the probate, the easier the will to locate.

How to Locate a Will of a Deceased Person

You must find the will of a deceased person to start probate -- the legal proceedings used to settle a person's final affairs and divide his estate. Ideally, the testator should always provide a copy of the will to his named executor, but if this wasn't done, you may need to be creative in where you start looking.

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