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Probate Records: How to Look up a Will in Probate

If you're looking for information about a loved one's estate, you may be able to look up their Will. Learn how to look up a Will in probate.

Do you want to find the Will of a friend or a loved one who passed away? It might not be as difficult as you think to do it. The first thing you need to do is figure out if the Will is a private or public record. Then, you can learn how to look it up using our step by step guide here. You should have no problem gaining access to that Will you’ve been searching for. Read on to learn more.  

Are Wills public record? 

A person's Will is the document that outlines his or her wishes on what to do with their assets, property and belongings after they pass away. An executor is responsible for filing a Will with the probate court upon the grantor’s (the person who created the Will) passing. So, are Wills public record?

Most of the time yes, unless a judge seals the records. But keep in mind, Wills won't be made public until after the probate proceeding has concluded. And, the truth is, probate can take a long time.

Large estates, or any complications, like someone contesting the Will, can make the probate process even longer. Still, when a loved one passes away, you might want to find out what is in their Will. If you're wondering how to find a Will in public records, there are a few things you should know.

Who can see the Will during probate?

Typically, during probate proceedings, only the executor and beneficiaries are allowed to see the Will. The executor takes care of paying taxes and settling any unpaid debts the estate owes. He or she then is responsible for distributing assets, property and belongings to the rightful heirs. After the probate proceedings, when the executor has taken care of their responsibilities, the probate records will then become public.

What is a probate record?

Simply put, probate records are just proof of authenticity. In other words, a probate record proves a Will is legitimate. A probate court keeps all records on file. If there isn't a Will, inheritance laws provide guidelines for passing on assets.

Probate laws can vary across the United States. But when someone leaves a valid Will, they died testate. On the other hand, if the person died and didn't have a Will, then he or she died intestate.

Step by step guide: how to find a Will in public records

If you're wondering how to find a Will in public records, you can do an online search to find the probate case. The following steps will help you find probate records online.

Identify where probate was filed

First, determine the county and state the executor of the estate filed probate in. This is likely to be in the county where the grantor was living at the time of his or her death. It could also be in the county where he or she died if they passed away in the hospital.

The executor would have most likely started the probate process in one of those counties. You can search online to get the decedent's (the person who passed away) former address or to find area hospitals if you don't have the information on hand. Another option is to search the local newspaper or funeral home obituaries for relevant information.

Search for the estate on the county government’s website

You can find out at the county clerk's office where the executor filed the paperwork. Once you know where the probate is, search that county's .gov website for the deceased person's name.

You can also get access to information related to the Will if it has gone through the probate process and become public record. But be forewarned, what you find may be a summary, lacking the details you want. If you can't find what you want online, you can contact the county clerk's office by phone or email.

The county clerk can potentially fax or mail probate records to you, or you can go to the courthouse in person. If the probate records are public, you should be able to gain access to the Will. However, a judge can seal the records upon request, in which case you won't be allowed to see the documents.

Obtain the Will

The best way to obtain a Will is with the probate court file number. The county clerk can give you the case number for reference, or the executor can also give you the information.

Additionally, you might be able to get the file number online by providing the deceased's name and date of death. In some cases, it might be necessary to search the court archives for a copy of the Will. Depending on when the decedent passed away, it might also be on microfilm or in a digital format.

Once you've located the Will and key details, you can print the paperwork directly. Alternatively, you can go to the courthouse in person to view the full details of the Will and all the probate records. Keep in mind, there's usually a fee associated with the process.

Printing a copy typically involves just paying a copying fee. You can also get a copy of the Will, stamped and certified by the court, as an exact copy of the official document.

Create your Will today

Finding a Will isn’t as hard as you may think. Using our step by step guide, you can locate and access the Will you need in no time at all. 

Have you been putting off creating your estate plan? Make sure your loved ones can easily find your Will and other estate planning documents after you’ve passed away so they don’t have to deal with anything else while they’re grieving your loss. At Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!

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