How to find last will records

Updated February 21, 2017

Last will and testament documents are public records that anyone can look at even if they are not related to the deceased person. Usually, it's up to the executor of the will to inform those who are named in the will as to when the document will officially be read by a judge. The executor is also responsible for distributing the deceased's assets based on that will. However, you don't have to be named in the will to have an interest in it. Creditors, past business associates and relatives of a deceased person often have to track down the document itself before they can contest it.

Verify that the person died, and when. The county office of vital statistics or health department can confirm a person's death, and may be able to tell you where they are buried. However, you may not be entitled to view the death certificate for additional information. Laws and policies vary by state and county.

Search through newspaper archives at the local library that serves the community or county where the person last lived. Once you have verified the date of death, look for published obituaries or death notices that may have appeared within a week of the death. The obituaries may list where the person is buried and the names and cities of surviving relatives. If the will is not filed in the same county as the deceased person's burial site or last residence, check the counties of relatives identified in the obituary.

Contact the probate courts to inquire about the will for which you are searching. It is important to note, however, that the will is not public record until after the person died according to the Standard Legal Law Library website. Some courts publish many of their filings online, so check the Internet first before visiting each court in person.

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About the Author

Aaron Gifford is based in New York. He has been on staff at the "Syracuse Post-Standard," the "Watertown Daily Times" and the "Oneida Daily Dispatch." He's also written for "Long Island Newsday," "Empire State Report" magazine and "In Good Health." He has been writing professionally since 1995. Gifford holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University at Buffalo.