How to Ask the Executor for a Copy of the Will

By Teo Spengler

An executor is the administrator of the estate of a deceased who is in charge of steering a last will and testament through probate. Her responsibility begins at the testator's death, and among her first duties is filing a petition for probate in the appropriate county. The will -- the testator's written description of how he wishes his estate distributed -- is a private document up until the date of death. Once the will is filed in probate, no confidentiality concerns impede an executor from providing will copies to interested parties.

Step 1

Evaluate your reasons for wanting a copy of the last will and testament. Your motivations determine the best approach as well as your chances of obtaining cooperation from the executor. If you are named heir or guardian under the document, witnessed the will or otherwise have a relationship with the will itself, the executor is obliged to provide you a copy of the document. Similarly, if you are a creditor or debtor of the deceased, the executor -- as business manager of the estate -- must provide you copies of relevant documents. Telephone the executor requesting a copy of the will.

Step 2

Tread more carefully if you want a copy of the will to prepare a will contest. To challenge the will or will provision, you must stand to inherit if the will fails; heirs under a prior will qualify, for example, and those in line for intestate distribution in the absence of a will. An executor owes the highest possible duty of care -- termed fiduciary duty -- to the testator's legal heirs, not necessarily to the heirs named in the will. For example, if a new spouse exercised undue influence over an ill testator and caused him to leave the bulk of his estate to her, the executor need not take sides in a will contest -- her duty is to whomever the court finds to be the rightful heir. Therefore, the executor's duties likely include providing a copy of a will to someone with standing to bring a will contest. However, do not telephone your request; create a record by writing a letter to the executor requesting a copy of the will and setting forth your reasons. Mail the letter with return receipt requested. That way you will have proof that you took prompt action to obtain a copy of the will in case the court requests it.

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Step 3

Take your best shot if curiosity moves you to obtain a copy of the will from the executor, but you should have a back-up plan. The fact that the will is public does not mean that the executor is obliged to provide copies to everyone who asks. Write a simple letter requesting a copy of the will without specifying your interest. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope and see what happens. Nothing prevents you from visiting the probate court and obtaining a copy yourself. The court clerk finds the file and charges a nominal amount for the copying service.

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How to Ask if You Are in a Last Will & Testament


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Is It Illegal to Copy Last Will & Testament Papers?

As long as you have the right to use the copy machine, no penalties attach to copying your last will and testament. In fact, it may be prudent for someone making a will to provide a copy of the document to her spouse, attorney and the person she names as executor. In most cases, however, the original will, not a copy, must be filed with the court for probate.

What Happens if an Executor Refuses to Probate?

An executor has a duty to act in the best interest of the estate, and refusing to probate an estate may be cause for the executor to be removed. State probate laws differ, but the Uniform Probate Code, approved by the National Conference of Commissioners On Uniform State Laws, provides a general framework for handling an executor refusing to move the probate process along. In addition to removal, an executor may be held personally liable for breaching his fiduciary duty to the probate estate.

Letters Testamentary Without a Will

Whether a person creates a will or not, her estate must be administered after her death. In either case, the court appoints someone to navigate the estate through probate and gives that person a legal document to prove her status; this document is known as letters testamentary if there is a will, and a letter of administration, if there is not.

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