Most people dream of an inheritance when times get tough. The procedure to determine whether someone left you money in a will depends on whether the testator is alive or dead. The final will of a living testator is a private document; you view it only if the testator agrees. When the testator dies, the executor of his will notifies all named heirs. You can double-check for yourself by a visit to the probate clerk's office.
Realize that the only way to determine if a living person includes you in his will is to ask. A "last will and testament" is only definitively "last" after the person's demise; he amends or supersedes it as he pleases during his lifetime. It remains a private document, fully revocable, even if filed with the court for safekeeping, a procedure permitted in some jurisdictions. However, the will is only as secret and confidential as the testator wishes it to be. He shows it to those he pleases. Asking doesn't cost you anything, although it may not endear you to the testator.
Read More: How to Find the Executor of a Will
Contact the executor to determine whether you are an heir under a will in probate. Most testaments name an executor to administer the will and steer it through the probate process after the death of the testator. If the testator failed to name an executor, the court appoints one. The executor petitions for probate, collects assets, pays debts and distributes the property according to the will dictates. In performing this role, the executor contacts every named heir. You may find out faster whether you inherited under the will by a telephone call to the executor.
Visit the probate court to obtain the name and address of the executor if you don't have it or, alternatively, to review the will for yourself. Most court documents, including probate files, are open to public review. Try first the superior court in the county in which the testator lived. Give the court clerk the name and date of death of the deceased and ask for the probate file. Review the file and locate the will, among the first documents submitted. Note the executor information and check for yourself the list of heirs. If your name appears, contact the executor.
If the will is not probated in the county in which the testator lived, ask the probate clerk for assistance. On rare occasions -- for example, if the testator maintained a residence elsewhere -- probate occurs in some other jurisdiction.
If you expected an inheritance and are not named in the will, review the matter with an experienced attorney to determine whether a will contest is appropriate.
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.