Where Are Last Will & Testaments Filed?

By Carrie Ferland

When people draw up their last will and testament, they often store the document in a lockbox or a secured filing cabinet to ensure the will is readily available upon their death. However, the will maker -- called the testator -- can also file a copy of his will prior to his passing, ensuring the will becomes a matter of public record and thus far more difficult to dispute. After the testator dies, the individual he has appointed as his executor is responsible for filing the will with the jurisdictional court to begin probate procedures and administer the testator’s final wishes.

During the Testator’s Lifetime

A testator is not required by statute to file her will during her lifetime. Some testators choose to file anyway, to ensure their will is a part of the public record before they pass. In some states, the testator can file an original copy of her will with the appropriate court and receive a docket number in advance so her appointed executor merely has to notify the court of her death to begin probate. However, most states suggest filing the will with the local Office of the County Recorder, which will not initiate any legal proceedings but does make the will a part of public record.

Office of the County Recorder

To make a will a part of public record prior to passing, the testator can file a copy of his signed will with his local Office of the County Recorder. The testator will probably incur a nominal filing fee -- typically, between $10 and $50 -- for filing his will. After submission, the office will provide the testator with a filed copy, which he should store somewhere secure for safekeeping. He can also provide a copy of the filed will to his executor and his family attorney for additional security. While any subsequent will the testator executes automatically voids the filed version, the testator should consider filing a new copy of his will each time he amends the on-file version with a codicil and when he executes an entirely new will to prevent potential confusion during probate.

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After the Testator’s Passing

When the testator passes, the appointed executor should file a copy of the will to initiate probate procedures. While not statutorily required for any will, probate is the process during which the court will review and verify the veracity of the testator’s will, oversee administration of the estate and handle any outstanding claims against the testator or her estate.

Local Surrogacy Court

The executor should file the original copy of the will with the appropriate court immediately following the testator’s passing. In most states, the court with jurisdiction is called Probate Court; however, some states have a Surrogacy, Surrogate’s or Estate Court, all of which serve the same function as Probate Court. The correct court to file with is the court located in the same county as the decedent’s estate -- typically, the same county as the decedent’s primary residence. The executor will need to pay a filing fee at the time of submitting the will, which averages between $100 and $500, depending on the rules of the specific court. However, the executor should use funds from the estate’s bank account to cover these costs, as the estate is financially responsible for any attorneys’ fees, court costs and other legal expenses related to probating the estate.

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

References

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