Your will is not a matter of public record until it is filed for probate following your death, or if you have filed it with the county prior to your death. The probate procedure can vary depending on the state where you live.
Probate is a legal process to prove the validity of a will. You submit the will with the probate court in your county or whatever court has jurisdiction.
Proving the Will
The probate process proves that the submitted will is the last will and testament of the deceased. Many states have "self-proving" statutes that allow witnesses to swear when the will is signed and executed. Alternatively, the probate judge may require witnesses to testify.
When you submit the will to probate court, you will also submit an application requesting that someone be the executor, or administrator of the will. Often the executor is designated in the will itself and can act without court supervision. An administrator must act with the probate judge's approval.
The executor must notify the deceased person's creditors, usually by filing a notice in the newspaper. He must also file an inventory listing assets and claims. Any court documents filed related to the will are public record.
Once the court approves the inventory, the executor can pay the debts and distribute the assets according to the will.
- W. Michael Murray, Attorney, Murray Walker & Associates, Austin, Texas
- Superior Court of California, County of San Diego: Wills, Estates & Trusts