How to Read a Last Will & Testament After a Death

By Teo Spengler

TV shows sometimes include scenes in which an attorney for a recently deceased millionaire reads the will to the assembled relatives, causing shock and astonishment. However, no American jurisdiction requires a public will reading. Most people read a will at the court clerk's office. After a testator dies, the probate court reviews his will for validity and supervises its administration until the executor distributes estate property to the heirs. This is termed probate. Anyone can read or copy the will at the courthouse during and after probate.

TV shows sometimes include scenes in which an attorney for a recently deceased millionaire reads the will to the assembled relatives, causing shock and astonishment. However, no American jurisdiction requires a public will reading. Most people read a will at the court clerk's office. After a testator dies, the probate court reviews his will for validity and supervises its administration until the executor distributes estate property to the heirs. This is termed probate. Anyone can read or copy the will at the courthouse during and after probate.

Step 1

Find out which court probates the last will and testament you wish to read. Look first to the court in the county in which the testator resided. A person's "residence" is a legal concept that's largely determined by the intent of the testator; thus, stays in convalescent homes or hospitals do not count for residence purposes. Check the obituary or the death certificate for the home address of the deceased or for other clues as to his residence. If you are still unsure, contact courts in each county in which the deceased kept a home.

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Step 2

Contact the court probating the will to ascertain probate search procedures. A few courts, like Los Angeles, have an automated telephone line that provides a probate number and case status when you input the last name of the deceased. Some courts maintain Internet sites where you search by name or date of death. Most courts require you to appear at the clerk's office during business hours. While you are on the phone with the court, request the street address and business hours.

Step 3

Go to the courthouse and locate the clerk's office. Provide the name and date of death of the deceased, or the probate file number, if you have it. The clerk finds the probate file and gives it to you to review. The executor of the will prepares most of the documents in the file. Her initial filing is a petition for probate, and she generally attaches the will to this petition. Look in the early pages of the file for these documents. Read the last will and testament and order a copy of it for home review. The clerk usually charges a small per-page copy fee.

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How to Read a Last Will & Testament

References

Related articles

How to Find a Will for Someone Who Has Died

A last will and testament is the final comment of the deceased on her life. You review a will to note that comment, to ascertain if you are among the heirs or out of simple curiosity. During the testator's lifetime, you cannot read the will without her permission; it is legally a private and personal document. After the testator dies, however, the will executor files the testament in probate court and any member of the public reviews it at the court clerk's office.

How to Read a Will in Public Records

The terms of a last will and testament are private until the testator, or will maker, dies -- you cannot know the contents of a living person's will unless he shows you. However, once the testator dies, the will's executor files the document with the probate court. While courts sometimes restrict access to celebrities' wills, you can review the vast majority of wills at the court clerk's office. You can even read a celebrity's will if you are a relative and have a reasonable hope or expectation of receiving a bequest.

How to Find the Executor of a Will

When a testator drafts her will, she not only names individuals to inherit her property, but also appoints someone to complete the administrative task of transferring assets to heirs. This person -- called the executor -- carries out the testator's instructions while complying with requisite legal procedures. She owes duties to the deceased testator, the heirs and the court that prohibit any in-dealing or dishonesty. After the testator's death, the executor files the will in probate and begins administering the estate.

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