Alabama law states that a probated will is a matter of public record. This means that anyone can view and copy it through the county clerk's office where the decedent last lived, unless a court orders that it be sealed.
Probate of a Will in Alabama
Alabama requires a last will and testament to be probated within five years of someone's death, except when the decedent's property passes directly to another person. It also allows for a small estate probate proceeding, which is easier and quicker than the full probate process. Alabama's Small Estate Act allows an heir to receive a decedent's assets if the estate's value is less than $25,000, and the estate executor publishes the estate notice for week.
If the testator, or deceased person, places assets in a living trust, those assets do not have to go through probate court. Assets that pass directly to a beneficiary also do not go through a probate proceeding because the transfer occurs automatically upon death. These assets include life insurance policies with a beneficiary named by the decedent and joint bank accounts.
Alabama Open Records Law
According to the state's Open Records Request Policy (Code of Alabama 1975, Section 36-12-40), a probated will is public record, and as such, any individuals can view it and obtain copies of it. County court systems allow for the viewing of a decedent's probated will. This is usually a free service, but there may be a small fee for obtaining copies of the record.
If a person cannot view the will, it may be because it is exempt from public disclosure. However, they may still see the documents that have been filed with it, the name of the executors, the attorney the executors hired, and the name of the probate judge.
Viewing a Probated Will
To research a probated will, an individual must contact the records office in the county where the original will was filed, usually the last place where the decedent lived. The county office will disclose the process for viewing the probate record, including how the person requesting the court records can get copies via fax, email or in-person, and the probate case number.
An individual can search for county records online using the deceased's name or the probate case number, if they have it. They can also search by the attorney's name or county probate court docket. After finding the record, they can simply view its details, but not all counties have probated wills online. A county probate office may have only a case summary or other limited information.
Making Copies of a Probated Will
A person who can view a will online can print copies of it from their home or office computer. There may be a small fee to make copies of the probated will in person. If they request a certified copy of the will via fax or mail, they may need to pay for those copies or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
If the person requesting the record lives out of state, they can contact an estate planning attorney for help in getting copies of the probated will. However, an attorney will charge a fee for this service.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.