How to Find Out if a Person Has a Will

By Teo Spengler

A will is a person's final comment on her life and, as such, is a private and personal document. Although state probate requirements differ, no jurisdiction allows public access to the will of a living person. Even the existence of a will remains private, a confidential matter between the party making the will -- the testator -- and anyone she trusts with the information. After death, the testator's final will begins probate. At this time state interest requires that the testament move into the public domain.

Step 1

Ask the testator herself if she has a will. No alternate, legal path leads to this knowledge given a living testator desirous of secrecy. The testator's attorney, doctor and banker are bound by confidentiality provisions from disclosing information about her private business to third parties. Her spouse and children may be honor bound, if not legally bound, to keep the fact secret. While you commit no crime if you attempt to pry information out of others, you risk the testator's displeasure. Question her directly if you need to know, but do not expect her to be pleased if your motivation is curiosity.

Step 2

Confirm the existence of a will with a testator's executor after the executor's death. If the testator draws a will, she likely includes in that document the appointment of an executor, a person who shepherds her property through probate for eventual distribution to heirs. If the will fails to name an executor, the court appoints one. The executor -- who owes a duty of care to the heirs that precludes any self-dealing or dishonesty -- remains current of the will status. Call the executor's office to inquire about the will.

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Step 3

Travel to the court clerk's office in the court probating the will to learn the name of the executor or discover for yourself whether the testator left a will. Generally, the court in the county in which the deceased lived during the end of her life has probate jurisdiction. Provide the name and date of death of the deceased to the court clerk and ask whether probate has been filed. If so, ask to review the probate file. Court documents are public documents unless statutes provide otherwise, and the list of statutorily private court documents do not include probate documents. Review the probate file at the clerk's window or in a separate reviewing area. The file tells you not only whether the testator had a will, but the terms of the will and their validity.

Step 4

Understand that no valid will existed if you find the decedent's estate distributed under the procedures of intestate succession. Intestate succession is a statutory means of distributing the property of a person who dies without a last testament. Exact procedures vary among jurisdictions but generally the property passes to blood kin of the deceased, regardless of whether the kin and the testator were close or even aware of each other's existence.

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How to Find Out If a Deceased Person Had a Will

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.

How to Find a Will for Someone Who Has Died

A last will and testament is the final comment of the deceased on her life. You review a will to note that comment, to ascertain if you are among the heirs or out of simple curiosity. During the testator's lifetime, you cannot read the will without her permission; it is legally a private and personal document. After the testator dies, however, the will executor files the testament in probate court and any member of the public reviews it at the court clerk's office.

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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