How to Find Deceased Family Wills

By Teo Spengler

A will is a written document that identifies a person's property and heirs, and can therefore provide useful information if, for example, you want to trace your ancestry or investigate a particular financial transaction. Effective after death, a will passes through a probate court where a judge oversees asset distribution according to the will's instructions. Therefore, when searching for the will of a deceased family member, start in the probate court that supervised its administration.

Step 1

Find out where the deceased family member resided at end of her lifetime. Ask relatives, check the obituary or search property records at the county recorder's office. Generally, the court in the county of residence has probate jurisdiction.

Step 2

Determine that court's procedure for accessing probate information. Large counties often maintain Internet sites or dedicated telephone lines with updated probate information. Use these services to confirm that the court probated the will of your family member.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Step 3

Go to the courthouse with information about your family member, including the full name and date of death. Locate the window for the clerk managing probate files. In some courts, one office handles all civil files; others keep probate records with family law clerks, and still others maintain a separate probate section. Give the clerk the information identifying your deceased family member. If the file is active, the clerk will generally be able to find it for you.

Step 4

Look through the file. Courts generally organize documents in the order in which they were filed; the last will and testament is among the first documents the executor files, and is often attached to a petition for probate. Inspect the remainder of the file to determine whether the court invalidated the will or if the heirs contested it. If the will is invalid, the executor files the next latest will for probate. Identify those documents you need and ask the court clerk for copies. Pay the small copying fee.

Step 5

Use the same procedure to locate closed probate files if they are fairly recent. Ask the clerk how to obtain older files; most courts archive older files, and you order them in advance to view them. Some jurisdictions store old wills in large folders, organized either chronologically or alphabetically. Look through the appropriate folder for the will of your deceased family member. Arrange copying in the manner described above for active probate files.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Find Wills


Related articles

How to Find the Executor of a Will for Distribution of Property

Although common law required different instruments for bequeathing real and personal property, current law eliminates the distinction. A modern testator devises all her property under one will and names an executor to steer the will through probate. The executor administers the will, collecting assets, locating heirs, paying estate debts and distributing estate assets. The probate court supervises this process, requiring regular inventories, valuations and reports. An executor owes the highest possible duty of care to the estate heirs which precludes any dishonesty or self-dealing.

How to Read a Last Will & Testament

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.

Viewing Last Wills & Testaments

A last will and testament is the written description of how the maker of the will -- called the testator -- intends to distribute her property at her death. Heirs receive a copy of the will at the testator's death, but family members and the curious public view it in the courthouse.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

How do I Find Last Will Records?

Last will records are strictly private during the life of the testator. After his demise, they move into the public ...

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, ...

How Can I Get a Copy of a Will?

TV shows often portray a lawyer reading the last will and testament to the assembled family. In real life, you usually ...

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 ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED