Where to Obtain a Copy of a Last Will & Testament

By Cindy Hill

A last will and testament is a legal document used to indicate the testator's intentions for the distribution of assets, as well as for the settlement of other legal affairs like the appointment of a guardian, after the testator's death. You may need to know where to obtain a copy of a last will and testament to participate in probate proceedings, or when doing genealogical or land title research.

Attorney's Office

Many people keep a copy of their will at home as well as a copy at their attorney's office, advises FindLaw. If you have lost a copy of your own last will and testament, contact your attorney to obtain another copy. However, an attorney cannot give you a copy of another living person's will without that person's permission.

Probate Court

After a person dies, his will is usually filed in the probate court in the jurisdiction where he last resided. You may obtain a copy of that will by paying a copying fee, often with a written request form, to the clerk of the probate court. While some courts allow wills to be stored at the clerk's office for safekeeping prior to a person's death, local rules vary as to whether such wills are considered public record and can be copied. Some jurisdictions do not have a separate probate court clerk's office; for example, the city of Alexandria, Virginia reports that wills are maintained in the three circuit courts serving residents of the area.

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Land Records

Some current wills, and many historic wills, are filed in land records as evidence of legal authority to transfer interest in real property in the course of administering an estate. The Green Lake County, Wisconsin, Register of Deeds, for example, reports that it has wills going back to the early nineteenth century filed amidst its other vital records files. You may obtain a copy of a last will and testament from public land records by searching the record and paying a copying fee to the land records clerk.

Foreign Courts

Foreign jurisdictions vary widely in their locations and methods for filing historic and recent wills. In England, you may obtain a copy of a will executed prior to 1858 by writing, with a search fee, to the National Archives, according to Her Majesty's Court Service. British wills post 1858 can be obtained by a request with a search fee to the York Probate Sub-Registry. In Italy, wills are publicly recorded in the Succession Office of the Tribunale in major Italian cities, according to the Italian Legal Language Service. Copies of the will must be requested from the appropriate Tribunale. The U.S. Embassy for the country where you are seeking to find a copy of a will can often assist in directing you to the legal repository for wills in that jurisdiction.

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How to Get a Copy of a Will in the State of New Jersey


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Are Wills Public Records?

Although wills are often intensely personal by design, they become public record at some point after the testator -- the person the will belongs to -- dies. Before that time, they are not legal documents and are the private property of the testator. With a few exceptions, wills are usually required to be filed with the court for the probate process. Once the court has possession, wills begin channeling through the probate process, are eventually filed and become available for public access.

Are Wills Public Information?

State statutes protect a will from the prying eyes of the public until a testator dies. During her lifetime, the testator can amend or revoke the will freely and confidentially as her circumstances change. Upon the testator's death, the latest version of her will moves to probate court for administration. The minute the will becomes a court document, it also becomes public information that's open to public viewing.

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