The law typically refers to individuals who draft wills as “testators.” In a will, the testator appoints a personal representative, sometimes called executor, to oversee the administration of the estate upon the testator’s death. When the testator dies, the personal representative must file the will for probate. State law governs probate and varies from state to state. In Illinois, once a will is filed for probate, it becomes a public record like any other court proceeding.
The Illinois Probate Act sets forth the requirements for creating a will in Illinois: the testator must be 18 years or older, and must be of sound mind and memory. To execute a valid Illinois will, it must be written and signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses cannot be interested parties such as creditors or beneficiaries.
In Illinois, smaller estates are exempt from probate. Generally, a personal representative must probate an estate that is larger than $100,000. This calculation does not include real property, and all real estate held solely in the decedent’s name must be probated. For small estates, the personal representative may file a small estate affidavit, though the personal representative must still file the will with the clerk of the court located in the region of the testator’s last residence.
Probate in the state is governed by the Illinois Probate Act. Probate is a judicial proceeding in which a probate judge determines whether the will is legal and valid, and oversees the entire process to make sure that the executor follows Illinois law. If necessary, the probate court decides any disputes that arise over the will that the executor cannot settle. In Illinois, the county in which the decedent last resided typically has jurisdiction over the decedent's probate process.
Once the personal representative files the will -- whether it's probated or not -- the will becomes a public record. As such, any person can obtain a copy of the will from the clerk of the court where the personal representative filed it. Some courthouses may allow people to make a copy at the courthouse, while others may allow individuals to request copies by mail.
An attorney and founder of ScrofanoLaw, a general practice law firm in Washington, D.C., Joseph Scrofano has been writing on legal issues since 2008. He holds a Juris Doctor from the Washington College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts with special honors from the University of Texas and a master's degree in international affairs from American University's School of International Service.