How to Read a Last Will & Testament After a Death

By Teo Spengler

TV shows sometimes include scenes in which an attorney for a recently deceased millionaire reads the will to the assembled relatives, causing shock and astonishment. However, no American jurisdiction requires a public will reading. Most people read a will at the court clerk's office. After a testator dies, the probate court reviews his will for validity and supervises its administration until the executor distributes estate property to the heirs. This is termed probate. Anyone can read or copy the will at the courthouse during and after probate.

TV shows sometimes include scenes in which an attorney for a recently deceased millionaire reads the will to the assembled relatives, causing shock and astonishment. However, no American jurisdiction requires a public will reading. Most people read a will at the court clerk's office. After a testator dies, the probate court reviews his will for validity and supervises its administration until the executor distributes estate property to the heirs. This is termed probate. Anyone can read or copy the will at the courthouse during and after probate.

Step 1

Find out which court probates the last will and testament you wish to read. Look first to the court in the county in which the testator resided. A person's "residence" is a legal concept that's largely determined by the intent of the testator; thus, stays in convalescent homes or hospitals do not count for residence purposes. Check the obituary or the death certificate for the home address of the deceased or for other clues as to his residence. If you are still unsure, contact courts in each county in which the deceased kept a home.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Step 2

Contact the court probating the will to ascertain probate search procedures. A few courts, like Los Angeles, have an automated telephone line that provides a probate number and case status when you input the last name of the deceased. Some courts maintain Internet sites where you search by name or date of death. Most courts require you to appear at the clerk's office during business hours. While you are on the phone with the court, request the street address and business hours.

Step 3

Go to the courthouse and locate the clerk's office. Provide the name and date of death of the deceased, or the probate file number, if you have it. The clerk finds the probate file and gives it to you to review. The executor of the will prepares most of the documents in the file. Her initial filing is a petition for probate, and she generally attaches the will to this petition. Look in the early pages of the file for these documents. Read the last will and testament and order a copy of it for home review. The clerk usually charges a small per-page copy fee.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Find Out If a Deceased Person Had a Will

References

Related articles

Viewing Last Wills & Testaments

A last will and testament is the written description of how the maker of the will -- called the testator -- intends to distribute her property at her death. Heirs receive a copy of the will at the testator's death, but family members and the curious public view it in the courthouse.

How to Locate a Last Will & Testament

People have various reasons for finding a Last Will and Testament. For example, you may want to know if you have been named as a devisee or beneficiary, know who was named to handle the affairs of the estate for the purpose of negotiating a contract on estate property, or just be plain curious about the affairs of a friend or relative. The testatrix, or maker of the will, may not have divulged the will's location prior to her death, but this should become public record once she is deceased and the will is filed for probate.

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 Locate a Person's Last Will & Testament

The only time you can locate a last will and testament -- legally -- is after the testator is dead. During a person's ...

How Can I Get a Copy of a Will?

TV shows often portray a lawyer reading the last will and testament to the assembled family. In real life, you usually ...

What do You Do if You Can't Find a Will for a Deceased Relative?

Sometimes a testator neglects to tell her loved ones or the will's executor where to find her will in the event of her ...

How to Find a Will Left by a Deceased Relative

When a relative dies, finding the will often takes a backseat to funeral preparations and other urgent matters. To ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED