A will is a legal document that allows the testator to designate how she would like her assets to be distributed upon her death. Upon death, a will is submitted to the probate court in the county where the testator lived. After a will has been submitted to probate, the county typically keeps keeps the original will, which is a public record. The name of the office that holds the will varies among the states. For example, in Maryland it's called the Register of Wills Office, and in California the probate department keeps the original will. There are several reasons why finding a registered will is necessary. For example, you may want to learn how the testator’s estate will be distributed or who is named as the executor of the will.
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Determine the state and county where the will has been submitted to probate. Usually, the will is registered in the county where the testator lived at the time of his death. If you are unsure whether a probate case has been opened in a particular county, you can contact the court by phone or visit the court in person. If a probate case has been opened for the testator, the court can provide you with this information. In addition, consider contacting a family member to determine which county the will was filed if you are unsure.
Contact the probate court or your county to determine which office handles will registration. If you are unsure whom to contact, call your local bar association's office.
Contact the appropriate office and ask how to search for a registered will in your county. For example, depending on the sophistication of the county's system, you may be able to search records online or in computer terminals located in the office. In some counties you may need to visit the office during specified hours to request a copy of the will.
Order a copy of the will with the county office. Depending on the county's procedures, you may need to complete a form to obtain a copy of the original will. In addition, the county may require additional documentation before you can receive a copy of a registered will. For example, in San Diego County, an original will is not available to view unless you provide a Certified Death Certificate to the court. In addition, the office may charge a fee for the copy. Unless the procedure of your county office differs, you should be able to receive a copy of the registered will on the same day that you submit your request in person. However, if you request a copy of the will by mail, it will take longer to receive the will.