TV shows often portray a lawyer reading the last will and testament to the assembled family. In real life, you usually have to track down a copy of the will yourself. It is easier to get a copy of a will once the maker is dead. You can only see the will of a living person if she agrees to show it you. Once the maker is deceased, however, the will is generally filed with the court for probate. Like most court documents, the vast majority of probated wills are available for public viewing and copying.
Compile information on the deceased, including full name, date of death and place of death. This information will be on the death certificate. Telephone probate courts in the region where the will maker died to determine where the will is to be probated. Obtain the street address and mailing address of that court.
Read More: How to Obtain a Copy of a Last Will & Testament
Visit the probate court, if possible. Ask the court clerk for the probate file of the will of the deceased. Review the file and mark the pages you wish to copy, including the will. Follow local procedures to have the clerk copy them for you. The court probably charges a small, per-page copying fee.
Call to find out the procedure for obtaining a copy of the will by mail if the probate court is not within convenient distance. You will probably have to send a check covering copying fees, and possibly a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Sometimes you can order documents through a court website.
The personal representative and executor of the will also have copies. Ask either for a courtesy copy if you are acquainted.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.