How to Find Out If a Deceased Person Had a Will

By Teo Spengler

During a person's lifetime, the only way to discover if he has a will is to ask. The existence of a will becomes public information, however, when the testator dies. The executor files the last will and testament with the court where a probate judge determines the validity of the will and supervises will administration. Probate documents are open to the public for viewing. Once you determine which court probates a deceased person's estate, a look in the court probate file confirms or disproves the existence of a will.

Step 1

Determine where the deceased testator resided. Generally, the court in the county in which the deceased spent his last years has probate jurisdiction. Call the court clerk's office in that county and ask how to check probate status. Some courts maintain automated phone lines where you input the deceased's name and date of death to learn the probate file number. Others update an Internet site with probate information. Many jurisdictions require you to go to the court itself. If this is the case, obtain the street address of the court and its business hours.

Step 2

Go to the probate court and find the court clerk's office. Give the clerk the name and date of death of the deceased and request the probate file. The clerk locates the file and allows you to read it at the window or in a separate file-review area. Look for the will among the early filings. The executor's initial filing generally consists of a Petition for Probate, the last will and testament and the death certificate. Confirm that the will testator is the person whose will you seek by comparing date of birth and street address information. Read the will.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Step 3

Review subsequent documents to ascertain whether the court ruled the will valid. The executor must "prove" the will by establishing proper signing and execution in conformity with state law; all states require at least two adult witnesses. If the court ruled the will invalid -- either because of improper execution or after a will challenge -- the executor probates an earlier will. Locate and review that will later in the probate file. If no earlier will exists, the estate passes to blood kin under the intestate distribution statutes.

Step 4

Look in other counties if the court clerk does not locate probate under the name of the deceased. "Place of primary residence" is a legal concept, turning largely on a person's intent, and sometimes people manipulate their residence for tax purposes. Determine whether the deceased maintained a residence in another county and check with that county's probate court.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Locate a Person's Last Will & Testament

References

Resources

Related articles

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.

How to Find the Executor of a Will for Distribution of Property

Although common law required different instruments for bequeathing real and personal property, current law eliminates the distinction. A modern testator devises all her property under one will and names an executor to steer the will through probate. The executor administers the will, collecting assets, locating heirs, paying estate debts and distributing estate assets. The probate court supervises this process, requiring regular inventories, valuations and reports. An executor owes the highest possible duty of care to the estate heirs which precludes any dishonesty or self-dealing.

How to Find Out If You Were Included in a Will When Someone Dies

A death in the family brings sorrow, and it also brings complications over inheritance. A last will and testament is the deceased family member's final communication to the world about her life, and few lines are more painful than that dividing the heirs from the disinherited. Although the will executor eventually contacts heirs to distribute assets, this can be months, and even years, after the date of death, depending upon the complexity of the estate. You can find out the will terms far earlier by making a short trip to the county courthouse.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

How to Read a Last Will & Testament After a Death

TV shows sometimes include scenes in which an attorney for a recently deceased millionaire reads the will to the ...

How to Find Wills

Wills not only provide information about heirs and inheritance, but also help those tracing family history or ...

How to Find a Will in Probate Court

Most wills go through probate, a court-supervised process of administering an estate. Soon after the testator's death, ...

How to Find Out If You Are a Beneficiary in a Final Will When a Relative Dies

During a person's lifetime, her will is private; she determines who views the document. After she dies, the will ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED