How to Find a Will for Someone Who Has Died

By Teo Spengler

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.

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.

Step 1

Determine the full name of the testator, his date of death and the county in which he resided during his final years. Call the court in that county and ask about probate search procedures. Large or modern court systems make it easy to locate probate files with automated phone lines or Internet sites. In other jurisdictions, you visit the court clerk's office to inquire. By one of these means, determine which jurisdiction probates the will and the number of the probate file.

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Step 2

Visit the court probating the file. Present yourself at the court clerk's window and provide the probate file number. The court clerk locates the file and allows you to look at it either at the window or in a nearby reviewing area. Take whatever time you need to peruse the file but do not remove a document from the file or attempt to remove the file from the courthouse. Severe civil and criminal penalties apply for theft of court documents.

Step 3

Review the last will and testament, one of the early probate filings, but review the remainder of the file as well to ascertain whether the executor successfully proved the will. If the court found insufficient witnesses or upheld a will challenge, it invalidates the original will. In that case, an earlier will moves into probate or, if none exist, the estate passes by intestate succession. Note documents of interest and ask the court clerk to make copies for you. Pay the per-page fee.

Step 4

Ask the court clerk the procedure to locate a will if probate is finished. Recently closed probate files remain in the computer system and the clerk locates them like open files. If the person whose will you seek died some years earlier, different procedures apply. Modern courts store older documents on microfilm, accessed by a computerized index system, but many jurisdictions keep old documents in folders, organized either chronologically or alphabetically.

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How to Locate a Person's Last Will & Testament

References

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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.

How to Find a Will in Probate Court

Most wills go through probate, a court-supervised process of administering an estate. Soon after the testator's death, the executor files a probate petition in the appropriate court. The petition includes a copy of the last will and testament, as well as information about the deceased, her heirs and her estate. Since most court records are public records, documents filed in probate court are generally open to public inspection.

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