How to obtain a copy of a last will & testament

Updated April 17, 2017

Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be difficult. To obtain a copy of a last will and testament, one must be sure a last will and testament exists or has not been lost. A court of law considers a last will and testament as one of the most sacrosanct documents, because it is the only way for the departed to communicate or express his wishes for the remains of his estate. A will is also considered the most private of official papers. It is not available for public record until almost a year after the departed has passed away, with strict laws regarding how the will is carried out. Any potential heir has the right to obtain a copy of a last will and testament before it becomes public record.

Request a copy of the last will and testament from the courthouse. To start the process of requesting a copy of a last will and testament from public record, one needs the full legal name of the departed, along with his or her date of birth and location of residence. This information will be required for county courthouse forms that will need to be completed for the request. A fee may be charged to file for request of a copy. A potential heir may have a right to see a will before it becomes a matter of public record, which will happen after possibly going through probate courts.

Contact the named executor or appointed administrator of the will. If the departed had created a last will and testament, the appointed executor has the responsibility of distributing the remains of an estate. It can take up to a year for the executor of a last will and testament to ensure that any claims against the estate of the departed have been paid, and before any remaining assets can be turned over to any parties named in the will. The named executor or appointed administrator will be on file with the courthouse.

Check public notices and inquire if the will is in probate court and if a case number has been assigned. A court of law may need to determine if a last will and testament is valid before it is executed. Estate laws vary state-by-state, but a copy will be kept on file by the court. It is available as public record. Requesting a copy from the court may need to be done in writing, in person or by telephone and a fee may be charged. Contact the courthouse clerk to find out the procedure since the request process can vary by county.

Requisition the court for a copy of the will while it is still in probate. If a will is currently in probate--or for some reason did not go to court--one can requisition the court to contest the will as a possible heir. The will being executed may not be the final will, or the departed may not have created the final will in a sound mental state. The probate process will determine that the will being executed is the legally sound copy.

Communicate with relatives or friends of the departed to try and find out if the will may not have been made public record by a court. Not every last will and testament goes to probate. The probate process may depend on the property being dispersed in the will, and it varies according to state laws. To transfer titles and for most 'real property' like as an auto or house, a last will and testament must be filed with a county court that will determine such procedures. It is up to the executor of the will to carry out the aforementioned responsibilities.


If a will is created or amended with the services of an attorney, the attorney is obligated to notify parties named in the will.


If there is no last will and testament--or if a last will and testament is contested without an amended or most recent version and not recognised by a court--an estate will be distributed according to local estate and inheritance laws, after any federal taxes have been paid.

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