How to Get a Copy of a Will

How to Get a Copy of a Will

by Brette Sember, J.D., September 2015

Wills are important documents and there are situations in which you will need to get a copy of last will and testament. How to obtain a copy of a will depends on the legal status of the will, as well as its location.

A Living Person’s Will

If you are wondering how do I get a copy of a will for a person who is still alive, the only way to do so is to ask the person who wrote the will (testator). A will is a private document and no one can be forced to show their will, but the testator can share copies with anyone he wishes. The testator may have the will at home, at his attorney’s office, or filed with the probate court for safekeeping where it is not available for viewing.

Finding the Deceased’s Will

How to find a copy of a will is an important issue. If someone in your family dies and there is no will on file with the probate court or with his attorney, you should check the home safe, safe deposit box, files, and any hiding or storage place where the deceased kept important documents. Your family member might have seen an attorney you don’t know about, so keep an eye out for business cards or letterhead from law offices and call to check with those offices.

Obtaining a Will from Probate Court

If you are wondering where can I get a copy of a will of a deceased person, there is a procedure to follow. Once the testator has died, if that will has been filed with the probate court of the county the deceased resided in, the court will open the will and it becomes public record. The best way to view the will is to get the probate court file number. The executor can give you this information. You may be also able to access the file number by phone, online, or in person at the courthouse by providing the deceased’s name and date of death. Some courts don’t even need the date of death and have an online docket you can search by name. Go to the courthouse with the file number and ask a court clerk to see the file. Getting a copy of a will is possible by paying a copying fee. Some courts will also provide you with a copy by fax or mail of a will on file. A certified copy of will is a document that has been stamped and certified by the court to be an exact copy of the official document.

It may be necessary to search through the court archives for a copy of will from many years ago. The clerk will tell you how to do this. The will might be on microfilm or in digital format for viewing. You can obtain copies from the clerk.

An Unfiled Will

If the testator is deceased but the will you are looking for has not been probated, it is not public record yet. However, you may still be allowed access. Who can get a copy of a will? If you are a named beneficiary in the will or a guardian of a minor child who is a beneficiary, you are likely permitted access to it by your state’s laws. You should contact the executor to ask to see it. If you don’t know who the executor is, obtain a copy of the death certificate through the county. The name of the executor is listed on that. But what if you don’t know if you are a beneficiary? You can seek action through your probate court to force the person holding the will to file it for probate. Your state may have a law making it a crime not to file a will.

Validity of Will Copies

The rule of thumb is only the original copy of a will is valid. The original is what must be filed with the court. Most people make copies of their will though. A copy of a will may be admissable in court if the original has been destroyed by a fire or flood or if the original has been unintentionally lost by the testator. If the original will was purposely destroyed or thrown out by the testator because he or she wanted to revoke that will, the copy is not valid. A certified copy is useful for filing other legal papers (such as to transfer title of assets).

Locating a will can take some digging, but with diligence and careful research you should be able to obtain a copy of the will you are looking for.

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