Are Massachusetts Wills Public Record?

By Maggie Lourdes

In Massachusetts, you can choose to file your will for safekeeping in your local county probate court. During your lifetime, you are the only person who can access the will from the court's files, but you can name a person to retrieve it upon your death. When you die, if no one claims your will from the court's files, the probate court opens it up to the public following publication of your death.

Public Access

If you leave a will when you die, a petition for probate is filed in the probate court by your personal representative, or executor. The probate process is necessary so the executor can distribute your property to your heirs. Once probate is opened, your will becomes part of the court's records. Massachusetts law allows any person to review and obtain copies of court documents, including wills that have been submitted for probate.

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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.

Is a Will a Public Record?

A will is a written document in which a person, termed a testator, describes how she wishes her estate to pass on her death. A last will and testament begins as a private document -- during the testator's life, she controls access to it -- but it finishes as a public one. A will in probate is open to public inspection.

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 realm. Whether you need the will records to ascertain an inheritance, trace property ownership or piece together family history, your search begins at the courthouse. The will executor -- the person administering the estate -- files a petition for probate with the court in the county in which the testator resided before he died. The resulting probate file, containing the will and all pertinent will documents, is available for public viewing.

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