How to Read a Will in Public Records

By Teo Spengler

The terms of a last will and testament are private until the testator, or will maker, dies -- you cannot know the contents of a living person's will unless he shows you. However, once the testator dies, the will's executor files the document with the probate court. While courts sometimes restrict access to celebrities' wills, you can review the vast majority of wills at the court clerk's office. You can even read a celebrity's will if you are a relative and have a reasonable hope or expectation of receiving a bequest.

The terms of a last will and testament are private until the testator, or will maker, dies -- you cannot know the contents of a living person's will unless he shows you. However, once the testator dies, the will's executor files the document with the probate court. While courts sometimes restrict access to celebrities' wills, you can review the vast majority of wills at the court clerk's office. You can even read a celebrity's will if you are a relative and have a reasonable hope or expectation of receiving a bequest.

Viewing Wills in Probate

Step 1

Determine the court in which the will is being probated. Locate the telephone number for the clerk of court and call for business hours. Ask whether probate documents are kept with general court filings. Obtain the exact street address of the probate document location.

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Step 2

Provide the court clerk with the name and date of death. He will obtain the probate case number and pull up the file. Follow his instructions as to where to sit or stand to review the file.

Step 3

Review the will, one of the first documents in the probate file. Ask the court clerk to make copies of the document to review more fully at home. Pay the small per-page fee.

Reviewing Archived Wills

Step 1

Ask the court clerk where archived wills are stored in your county. Go there with the identifying information about the deceased.

Step 2

Determine the appropriate procedure for locating the archived will. In some jurisdictions, the clerk locates the will for you using the information you provide. Alternatively, the clerk may send you to an index -- either alphabetical or by date -- and you access the information for yourself.

Step 3

Review the archived will. Many courts keep original wills from many years back in binders organized by date, but newer wills will likely be in microfilm. Request copies of the will to review more carefully at home. The court charges a small per-page fee, or directs you to a self-service copier.

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How Can I Get a Copy of a Will?

References

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How to Find Out If Someone Left You Money in a Will

Most people dream of an inheritance when times get tough. The procedure to determine whether someone left you money in a will depends on whether the testator is alive or dead. The final will of a living testator is a private document; you view it only if the testator agrees. When the testator dies, the executor of his will notifies all named heirs. You can double-check for yourself by a visit to the probate clerk's office.

How to Read a Last Will & Testament

The grim-faced lawyer gathers interested parties in a tense circle, then opens the sealed envelope containing the will and begins to read it into the silence. This scene occurs in television sitcoms more often than real life. No jurisdiction requires a public reading of a will, yet all states permit public access to probate files. After the testator's demise, the court supervises her will's probate. Any member of the public can read her last will and testament in the county courthouse.

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.

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