Did you know that a filed will that has gone through the court process is a matter of public records? If you’re looking for a copy of a last will for legal purposes or because you’re simply curious about a specific will, you can typically request or find a copy of such a document.
However, it may take a little bit of research and effort on your part to find it. It may also depend on the status of the will when you go looking for it. You should remember that if the person is still living and their last will and testament has not been filed in the courts, it will not be publicly available.
When Does a Last Will Become a Public Court Record?
First things first, you need to understand when a will becomes a public document. We touched on this just briefly, but it’s time to dig a little deeper.
When a person is alive, their will is a private document. This person, known as the testator, can change the contents and instructions of their last will at any time. After all, it is a legal document, and it is treated with the corresponding confidentiality and privacy in all regards.
The only person who can share the details of a last will while its testator is still alive is the testator themselves. You will not find these in the public records. It means if you are curious about details in this situation, you will have to approach the individual in question and discuss it with them.
Only after a will is filed with the court will you find it among the public records. However, the will’s exact details and legal documentation are not made public until the probate process is complete.
In a nutshell, a last will document becomes available as a public record only when relevant probate proceedings are complete through the court system.
What Information Do I Need to Find a Will?
There is more than one way to get a copy of a will from public archives. The easiest way to find a will is through the court file number from the probate process. If you do not have this number, you will have to look through other options provided by your court district.
For example, some states are moving to online platforms that make requesting and obtaining such documents easier. However, it’s a slow process, and many states are not there yet or still transitioning.
You will most likely need to know at least the deceased’s name and date of their death to request a copy of their last will if you do not have the case number. In some cases, you will have to use the date of death and name first to obtain a case number and then use the case number to look up the probate records regarding the individual in question.
How to Request Probate Court Records
Specific details of the process may vary in different areas. In some states, you may have online search options. In any case, you are encouraged to follow these steps to get the necessary probate court records.
1. Locate Where the Will is Probated
To find a last will, you will need to know where this document was being probated. If you request the wrong district, you will return no results, which can be incredibly frustrating.
The first thing you will need is the county of filing to make your request from the correct location. Generally, this is in the county the individual resided in.
2. Contact the County Courthouse
Your next step is to contact the appropriate county courthouse. Again, your options here may vary. Some courthouses require you to make your requests in writing, while others might allow you to call or even make a request online. Furthermore, you might also make your request in person.
You are recommended to look for your options via a quick online search. For example, in Kansas, they have some case information available online, but other requests must be made in writing using the official form.
3. Request a Copy of the Will
Once you know the county courthouse and its requirements, you can submit your request.
If you can do so online, this is the easiest way to request a copy of the last will, but you may have to submit a special form or make your request in person. Therefore, you need to follow the courthouse instructions, which can differ from state to state.
4. Pay a Copying Fee
Most courthouses will require a copying fee in order for you to receive a copy of the will or any other requested document. This fee varies by district but needs to be paid to officiate your request.
What if I Cannot Find Probate Records Online?
If you cannot find probate records online, it may be because they are not available online.
If your search is returning no results, it is also possible that the probate process has not yet been completed. Furthermore, you may be searching in the wrong county or area for the records, so make sure to double-check every detail.
Keep in mind that not every entity has online records, so you may need to dig a little further.
What if the Document Has Not Been Probated Yet?
If a last will has not been probated yet, it will not be considered a public record. If you are searching for a will that still needs to be filed for a deceased person, try looking in storage areas for that person.
If you are not involved in the process but believe you are a beneficiary on a will, try making contact with the will’s executor since beneficiaries are allowed to access the will in most cases.