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

By Teo Spengler

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.

Step 1

Determine the address of the court where the will is in probate, usually the probate court in the county in which the testator died. Alternatively, try the probate court in the county the testator resided before death. In some jurisdictions, like Los Angeles, a special probate court phone number provides case information over the telephone. As a last resort, ask next of kin where the will is filed.

Step 2

Take the death certificate -- a public record available from vital statistics in the jurisdiction -- to the jurisdictional courthouse or, if you don't have the certificate, you will need the full name of the deceased and his date and place of death. In many jurisdictions, the general clerk's office files all legal documents including probate documents. Ask the clerk to pull the probate file. Generally, you review the file in a nearby location with a clerk observing, but different jurisdictions impose different restrictions. A probate file is an official court record; do not mark documents or take the file from the courthouse.

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Step 3

Look through the probate file for the last will and testament; it is likely one of the early documents. Review it in the courthouse or obtain a copy from the court clerk and read the will at home. Heirs are generally not listed separately, so search the entire bequest section for your name or words referencing you (for example,"my sister Sophie's only daughter.")

Step 4

Obtain the name and phone number of the executor from the will or probate file. An executor files the will in probate, collects assets, pays the testator's outstanding bills and distributes the remainder of the estate according to the terms of the will. The testator names the executor in the will and her name is listed in most probate documents. Call the executor and ask questions to confirm whether the testator left you a devise in the will.

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

References

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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.

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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.

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