Wills are documents that spell out instructions for carrying out a deceased person's last wishes and distributing their assets. A will becomes registered as public record once it is filed in probate court. Once the document is in court, it can be retrieved by providing the name of the deceased or the executor. The real trick is finding the probate court in which the document is filed.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Access to local newspapers
- Access to county office building
- Access to probate courthouse
Verify the full name of the deceased and the date of their death. That information can be found in the obituary or death notice section of local newspapers (search in all of the dailies that cover your area and the community weeklies). The report should indicate the names and towns of surviving relatives, and where funeral services took place.
View the person's death certificate at the county office building or closest office of vital statistics. Rules vary by state, but you may be required to note certain information about the person, including whether you are related. In addition, the process may require putting your request for information in writing. The death certificate should indicate where the person is buried, which will give you a better idea of where their will is filed, if it is not in the county where they died.
Check probate court records for the county where they last resided and/or the county in which they were buried. There is also a chance the will was filed in the deceased person's native community, which may be noted in the obituary or death notice. According to the DoHistory website, these records should be indexed to include a case number and might also include phone numbers of people involved. In some counties, they may even be available online.
Visit the county clerk/recorder's office (in the county where the deceased last resided) to check for liens on the deceased person's property. In those records, there may be references to where the person's will was filed, if it was not in that county's probate court.
Tips and warnings
- Probate courts review almost all deaths, even if it is to establish that there is no will or estate and no further probate procedure is necessary. Wills require executors. Without a will, there is an administrator of the estate, according to the DoHistory website.
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