Are Wills Public Record in California?

By Teo Spengler

Neither the California Public Records Act nor the federal Freedom of Information Act applies to court documents. However, the California court system provides public access to all court documents not specifically made private by state statute. Thus, a last will and testament becomes a public document in California the minute it is filed in probate, absent a court order to the contrary.

During Executor's Life

A will is a legal document specifying who will inherit the testator's assets and property. In California, a testator can amend or revoke a will during her lifetime; the will is not effective until after her death. Before the testator's death, her will is a personal document and therefore private in the eyes of the California courts. Even those who witness a testator's last testament do not have a right to view the contents.


After a testator dies, the executor files a petition for probate in a California superior court in the county in which the decedent lived. The petition provides information about the person who died, the named executor and the heirs under the will. If the judge grants the petition, the probate clerk opens a file for the probate. That file contains the initial petition for probate, the last will and testament as well as any other documents filed regarding administration of the estate. In California, anyone can view this file at the courthouse.

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Some documents in a California probate file may be private. California statutes identify some records as confidential, which means that the public may not look at or copy them. Confidential records include records from juvenile court, adoption proceedings, termination of parental rights proceedings, grand jury proceedings before indictment, medical records and reports, arrest reports and criminal history information. If a last will includes or incorporates any statutorily confidential documents, the court orders the will or part of it sealed.

Viewing a Will

In California, anyone can view a will in probate. Go to the county court, find the probate clerk's office and request the appropriate probate file by providing the name of the deceased and the date of death. The last will and testament is among the first documents in the file. Review it for free in the courthouse, or request a copy. The clerk charges a small fee, usually by page, to copy documents.

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Can Anyone See Someone's Last Will & Testament?


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Is a Handwritten Last Will & Testament Legal in Florida?

A will is a document that has your last wishes and directions for distribution of your property to your loved ones after your death. A handwritten will is valid in Florida if all of the requirements dictated by state law are met. If your will is handwritten and does not meet Florida standards, the document is not eligible for probate, which is the legal proceedings use to settle the estate of a person who left a will.

Are Probated Wills Public Record in the State of Alabama?

Alabama's law regarding public access may pose a challenge if you want to keep your estate matters private after your death. According to Alabama Code Section 36-12-40, government officials in charge of public records have a duty to provide access to those records. If you are determined to keep your postmortem affairs private, you may have to resort to alternate estate planning methods that bypass the probate process.

How to Find Out if a Person Has a Will

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.

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