Getting a Copy of a Last Will and Testament in Tennessee

By Timothy Mucciante

In Tennessee, a will executed by a testator (the person making the will) is typically available only after the testator passes. The will is made publicly available when it is read in open court, if the testator deposited the will with the clerk of the probate court. Eventually, every will probated in a county probate court in Tennessee becomes publicly available and then anyone can obtain a copy of the document.

Probating a Will

Probating a will is a process in which a probate court judge examines the testator’s last will and testament and distributes the testator's assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. An asset is anything the testator owned, including real estate, personal property, cash and investments. Once the will is admitted to probate, the personal representative named in the will is responsible for carrying out the last wishes of the testator.

Will Deposited With the Probate Court

Tennessee law permits a testator to deposit his executed will with the clerk of the probate court for the county in which the testator resides. By depositing a last will and testament with the probate court, there will be little question as to which will the testator intended to be probated. Once the will is deposited, only the testator may remove it from the court files; no one else may see it or obtain a copy of it.

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Will Read in Open Court

If the testator deposits his will with the probate court, when he passes, a probate judge will read the will in open court. If the testator did not deposit the will with the probate court and the testator’s personal representative locates the will, it must be immediately delivered to the probate court clerk. The will is then read in open court. After the will is read, a copy of the document may be requested from the court clerk.

A Will Is Public Record When Probate Proceedings Start

If a will is not deposited with the probate court clerk, the will becomes public record when it is filed with the clerk’s office after the testator’s death. Once the document is a public record, anyone may read it or obtain a copy. For example, Elvis Presley's will was made available to the public after it was filed with the probate court six days after he died. If any person wants a certified copy of a will – even the last will and testament of Elvis Presley – most probate courts in Tennessee will provide it for a small fee.

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