A will is a written document that specifies how a person wishes his estate to be divided. After the testator dies, the will is commonly subject to court proceedings known as probate. Relatives and other potential heirs may find it necessary to locate a will, especially when challenging or questioning the estate proceedings; others often find wills useful when researching family trees. Wills and estate proceedings are typically filed in the probate court of the county or counties in which the deceased had a connection, such as residence or property holdings.
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Contact the clerk of the probate court of the last county of the deceased person's residence to ascertain if a will was submitted to court in a probate proceeding. Provide the clerk with the deceased person's legal name and the approximate date of death if you know it.
Check the land records of the counties in which you believe that the testator, or deceased person, may have owned real estate. Visit the office of the county clerk or recorder for each county and request that the clerk run the deceased's name through its land records to locate property that may be in his name.
Contact the probate court clerk in every county in which the deceased person owned real estate. Provide the clerk with the deceased person's legal name, date of death if you know it, and address of the property. Ask her to check for a filed will.
Contact the probate court clerk of each of the counties in which the deceased person previously lived. Provide the clerk with the deceased's name and an estimation of date of death, if possible. Request the clerk to check the court files to see if a will has been filed in that county.
Tips & Warnings
- Check the relevant state's judicial website for county court contact information
- Mail in an estate search request to out-of-state courts.
- Contact the department of vital records of the county in which the testator died for the date of death.
- Land record searches may be available on online in some counties.
- If no probate proceeding has been filed, it is still possible that a will may have been deposited with the court for safekeeping. A deposited will is only available for viewing when a person with an interest in the estate -- such as an heir -- provides the probate court with proof of the testator's death.
- Probate courts sometimes charge fees for will searches made by mail or phone. Fees vary by county.
References & Resources
- Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images