Most wills go through probate, a court-supervised process of administering an estate. Soon after the testator's death, the executor files a probate petition in the appropriate court. The petition includes a copy of the last will and testament, as well as information about the deceased, her heirs and her estate. Since most court records are public records, documents filed in probate court are generally open to public inspection.
Identify the correct court. Generally, the executor probates a will in the country in which the deceased resided during her lifetime. Telephone that court or visit its website for information on its probate records. Some courts list probate information online, and others provide a telephone number for obtaining probate file numbers and status. Many small courts require a personal appearance.
Read More: How to Locate a Person's Last Will & Testament
Obtain the probate file number by telephone or online if the court offers those choices. Provide the full name of the deceased and the place and date of death. Alternatively, visit the court where the will is in probate. Provide the information to the probate court clerk. In some courts, the clerk looks up the information himself; in others, the clerk directs you to a listing of open probate files and you locate the appropriate file number.
Give the file number to the court clerk and ask to see the probate file. The clerk locates the file and instructs you where to review it. Sometimes you take the file to a reading area; sometimes you review it at the clerk's window. Do not remove documents from the file or attempt to remove the file from the courthouse. Removing court records is a serious offense. Ask the court clerk to make a copy of the will if you need more time to review it. The courts charge for copying documents, usually a per-page fee.
Don't carry pocket knives to the courthouse. Many court buildings require security checks before entering.
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.