Is It Illegal to Copy Last Will & Testament Papers?

By Teo Spengler

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.

The Purpose of a Will

A will is a legal document in which you describe how you want your property distributed at your death. You can also use the will to name a trusted person to manage your estate through the probate process and identify your choice for the guardians of your minor children.

State Requirements

The making of wills is regulated by state law, so requirements vary depending upon where you live. Some states, like California, allow unwitnessed handwritten wills, but most wills must be signed by at least two adult witnesses and/or a notary public to be valid. Will forms are available from court websites and online legal service providers.

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Copying Wills

It is legal to make a copy of your own last will and testament, and generally equally legal to make a copy of any last will and testament that has been provided to you without copying restrictions. While it may be wise to provide a copy of the document to key individuals, such as your attorney, think hard before handing out copies to your heirs since you can change the terms of your will at any time.

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What if an Executor of an Estate Destroys the Decedent's Last Will & Testament?
 

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Can You Probate a Will Yourself?

The executor of a will has the main responsibility to ensure that the instructions in the will are carried out as written. To do this, the executor works with the probate court. Although all U.S. states allow an executor or personal representative to work with the probate court without an attorney, an attorney can be helpful, especially if probate is complicated or a will contest erupts.

Can Anyone See Someone's Last Will & Testament?

While a testator remains alive, her will is a private document. She shows it to whom she wishes, and others have no right to view it. It is revocable at whim. At the testator's death, however, the will executor files the document with the probate court. Once a will is filed with the court, it is a public document unless the court orders otherwise.

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