There may come a time when you need to obtain a copy of a Will. This can happen for a number of valid, legal reasons. If you don’t have immediate access to a Will through a family member or an estate executor, you can still gain access to a Will through legal channels. Wills and other probate documents are public court records that are accessible by anyone. However, they only become available once a Will has been probated. Here’s an easy guide that breaks down how to find out if a Will has been probated so that you can order your copy of the Will in question.
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How to find out if a Will has been probated
When an individual with a Will in place passes away, that Will must be filed with their local probate court. This responsibility typically falls on the person who was named executor in the Will. They are also responsible for notifying immediate family members of the death and providing copies of the Will to those who are named as beneficiaries.
In any instance where you do not automatically receive a copy of a Will but want to obtain a copy of it, you may be forced to wait until the Will has been probated and becomes publicly available. Here are some steps to take to find out if the Will in question has been probated:
1. Ask family members and other close contacts the status
Before you visit the probate court, try asking family members and other close contacts of the decedents regarding the status of the Will.
They may already be in communication with the executor or other person who is in possession of the Will. If you were named a beneficiary, then you have a right to a copy of the Will provided by the executor. If you are not included in the Will in any way, they may not necessarily share a copy of the Will with you. However, they may be able to share the status of the Will and whether or not it has been probated.
You can also attempt to seek this information with other close contacts of the decedent, such as their attorney. If the decedent worked with an attorney to draw up their estate planning documents, then the attorney office may have more information for you.
2. Appear in person at probate court to ask for the will
If contacting family members and other close contacts doesn't render any luck, you can go straight to the source. This requires a visit to the probate court. Typically, it is the county in which the decedent resided or passed away, so start there. A Will can also sometimes be filed in the county where the decedent owned real estate, so keep this in mind as backup.
When visiting the probate court, you’ll need to provide some basic identifying information, such as the full legal name of the decedent and the date of their death. The county clerk will use this information to pull up any applicable probate records. This will allow them to tell you if a Will has been filed or not.
If the Will has been filed but not probated, then you won’t be able to access a copy until after the probate process has concluded. In the meantime, the clerk can provide you with the probate court file number for later reference.
If the Will has been filed and probated, then you can request a copy of the Will as a member of the public. You’ll simply fill out a request form and pay a nominal copying fee in exchange for your copy.
If for some reason you cannot visit a probate office in person, you can also submit your request in writing, by fax, or by email. Visit your respective county probate website for instructions.
3. Check the county government’s website to search for the probate case
Some county governments manage online databases that can be searched for probate cases. Some courts may even allow you to conduct a search using the decedent’s name, but usually, you’ll need the probate court file number obtained in Step 2.
This number can be used to check the status of the probate case. Once the case has concluded, the Will should be available. You may even be able to order a certified copy of the Will through the online portal provided.
Can you check probate status online?
Yes, many county offices provide online databases containing information about probate cases. However, you may not be able to access the information you’re looking for without the correct information. This may include some or all of the following: the name of the decedent, the date of their death, and the court case number.
Once you locate the record, you can click on it to gather more information. The amount of information provided will vary from county to county. Some will simply provide information regarding the case status or case summary, while others may provide related case documents online when available.
Create your Last Will & Testament today
Estate planning is a legal process that offers certain protections to the Testator (the creator of the Will) and their beneficiaries. One of these protections is privacy. A Will does eventually become public record, but only after it has been probated and the timeframe in which claims can be submitted has passed. If you believe you have the right to view a Will, then you should not wait for the probate process to conclude. Instead, you should make your best attempt to locate a copy of a Will through the executor, or the decedent’s family members or attorneys. This is especially pertinent if you believe you are named a beneficiary in the Will or otherwise have a claim to the decedent’s estate.
Otherwise, you may need to wait until the Will has been probated so that you can access a copy as a member of the public. If you don’t know how to find out if a Will has been probated, be sure to reference this guide. Luckily, gathering this information isn’t difficult at all. It’s simply a matter of knowing where to look, which is at the probate court.
If all of your attempts of searching for a Will fails, know that not all Wills necessarily go through probate. If you think this could be a possibility, be sure to read our guide that explains why some Wills may not go through the probate process.
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