How Can I Get a Copy of a Will?

By Teo Spengler

TV shows often portray a lawyer reading the last will and testament to the assembled family. In real life, you usually have to track down a copy of the will yourself. It is easier to get a copy of a will once the maker is dead. You can only see the will of a living person if she agrees to show it you. Once the maker is deceased, however, the will is generally filed with the court for probate. Like most court documents, the vast majority of probated wills are available for public viewing and copying.

Step 1

Compile information on the deceased, including full name, date of death and place of death. This information will be on the death certificate. Telephone probate courts in the region where the will maker died to determine where the will is to be probated. Obtain the street address and mailing address of that court.

Step 2

Visit the probate court, if possible. Ask the court clerk for the probate file of the will of the deceased. Review the file and mark the pages you wish to copy, including the will. Follow local procedures to have the clerk copy them for you. The court probably charges a small, per-page copying fee.

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Step 3

Call to find out the procedure for obtaining a copy of the will by mail if the probate court is not within convenient distance. You will probably have to send a check covering copying fees, and possibly a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Sometimes you can order documents through a court website.

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How to Get a Copy of a Probated Will
 

References

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

Don't expect to see your grandfather's will while he is alive, unless he decides to show it to you. While the testator -- the person making a will -- is alive, his last testament is private and completely revocable. Your grandfather can change it on whim by writing a codicil or drafting a superseding will. However, when the testator dies, his will becomes effective -- and public. The court opens probate on the will and any member of the public can view and copy the document in the clerk's office.

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The grim-faced lawyer gathers interested parties in a tense circle, then opens the sealed envelope containing the will and begins to read it into the silence. This scene occurs in television sitcoms more often than real life. No jurisdiction requires a public reading of a will, yet all states permit public access to probate files. After the testator's demise, the court supervises her will's probate. Any member of the public can read her last will and testament in the county courthouse.

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