Probate records can be very useful and absolutely necessary to the person who wishes to obtain a copy. These records can be an incredible source of information for a person working on a family tree. Probate records can be vital to someone who is trying to prove ownership of an inherited item or receive money from an estate. Typically, probate records can be found in the local probate or surrogate's court. Fees are usually charged for copies, but in some areas, the records can be viewed for free.
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Call the local probate or surrogate's court office in the county or district where the decedent died. Ask the clerk what the procedure and fees are for getting copies of probate files, as this varies by locality. You may be able to order the copies by the phone or by mail if you know all of the required information, like the exact spelling of the deceased's name and the case file number. If you do not know all of the necessary information, ask if the office will do the search for you and what the extra fee for this service is. Older files may be at a storage facility and can take longer to get.
Visit the court in person if you do not know all the necessary information or the court procedure requires public request forms be filled out in person. Many offices have public access to the indexes, which are lists by year of probate records that give the corresponding file number for each person's name. The index may be on a computer system, and you just put in the decedent's name to get the file number. If the index is an older alphabetical book system, select the book that contains the first letter of the decedent's last name. The "key" will determine what pages you need. Keys are normally found at the front of the book and will have sets of letters representing the first few letters of last names with a corresponding page number.
Consult an attorney if you need the records for legal purposes. Depending on state laws, some information may be eliminated from public copies. Death certificates are now being removed from public copies of probate records for the general public in some states. An assets list and inventory schedule that was sealed by court order will also not be in a file copy. If you are trying to prove an item or inheritance that was left to you is being withheld by the person is responsible for the estate, you will need these documents.
Hire a title search or land record company to do the work for you. This can be more expensive, but generally, title agencies have a working relationship and access to the probate records for real estate purposes already established. Check the local phone book or online to find title companies in your area if you do not have the time to visit the office or search yourself.
Tips and warnings
- If the deceased person used more than one last name, list the other names on any copy requests.
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