How to Locate a Person's Last Will & Testament

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

How to Locate a Person's Last Will & Testament

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

The only time you or the general public can access a person's last will and testament is after that person has died. During a person's lifetime, his will is private—even if he has already filed it with the probate court. Attempts to view or abscond with the will without the person's permission is considered illegal. However, once the person has died and as long as the estate executor has already filed the will, the public may search for the will at the probate court with the help of the court clerk.

Elderly man and young woman signing paperwork at a table

1. Locate the correct probate court.

To begin your search, you must figure out where the estate executor the will. If you cannot obtain any information from the deceased's family or friends, you should first look to the probate court in the county where the deceased resided during his final years. Typically, only one or two probate courts are located in a single county.

2. Call or visit the probate court.

To confirm whether the probate court does indeed have the deceased's will on file, you can visit the probate court in person and speak with the office clerk. Alternatively, some counties offer an automated probate telephone line. When you call, you must enter the deceased's name and the date they passed away to learn whether probate is open, and if so, the probate number. Other courts may have a website where you can obtain the same information.

3. Obtain the probate file.

Once you have confirmed the probate court has the will on file, you must physically go to the court and ask for the probate file. Give the probate clerk the name and date of death of the deceased, or if you have it, the probate number. The clerk can locate the file and give you instructions on where to find it. If you wish to take the will home with you, you can request a copy from the clerk for a fee.

4. Repeat as necessary.

If the court clerk tells you that there is no will on file for the deceased, it means that the estate executor has not filed the will yet or has filed it in a different court. Consider whether the deceased listed a different primary address in his will. Other possible locations to consider are any county where the deceased owned property. Repeat the above steps in each potential county until you locate the correct probate court.

5. Review archived materials.

To locate older wills in the event the deceased died years earlier, you may need to review the archived wills. The court clerk can explain to you the procedure for accessing archived wills. In some counties, a court employee can look up older wills using the information you provide. In others, you may have to look through a court probate index to find the old will. When reviewing older documents, treat them gently as they are not microfilmed like newer wills.

When trying to locate a person's last will, these steps will aid you in a potentially lengthy process. The more information you gain about the person whose last will and testament you're seeking, the better the chance you'll locate it quicker.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.