Can You Get a Copy of a Will Before Someone Dies?

By Heather Frances J.D.

A will is not actually permanent until its writer, called a testator, dies. Thus, while a testator can allow others to read his will, he can also keep it a secret. Even if he allows others to read a version of his will or files it with a local court, he can change it at any time prior to his death.

Filing a Will

In many states, like Texas, testators can file their wills with a local government office, such as a county clerk. However, this is typically optional. Filing the will gives the testator a safe place to store his will, ensuring it won't be lost somewhere amongst his other papers after his death. A testator may even be able to include contact information for those he wants notified after his death that his will is on file. These individuals can retrieve the filed copy of the will after the testator dies and submit the will to probate. However, filing a will does not necessarily give others access to the document before the testator's death and procedures can vary greatly by state law.

Sharing a Will's Contents

A testator can keep his will completely private, not letting anyone other than a handful of neutral witnesses or an attorney see it. Generally, there is no way to force a testator to give up a copy of his will before he dies. However, a testator can choose to share copies with his loved ones so that the terms of the will do not come as a shock after his death. Testators are free to change the terms of the will, though, even after giving copies to others.

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How Can I Get a Copy of a Last Will & Testament?


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When Are Wills Made Public?

A will is a legal document that enables you to organize your affairs after your death. When you write a will, you set out instructions about how you want your property divided and your estate handled when you are deceased. Private documents when written, wills become public when they are filed in the probate court.

How to File a Will & Testament in Florida

A will describes how the person writing it -- the testator -- wants his property to be distributed when he dies and nominates an executor, or personal representative, to administer his estate through the probate process. However, the representative cannot administer the testator's estate or properly distribute his assets until the will is filed with the Probate Division of the testator's local Circuit Court.

Where Are Wills Kept?

When a person, known as a testator, executes a will, he usually stores it in a secure location not readily available to others. While this is good practice for avoiding theft, damage and mere curious snooping, it could permanently keep the will hidden if the testator fails to leave instructions for retrieving the document after the testator's death. If this happens, however, you likely may be able to hunt it down by checking the most common places where wills are kept.

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