How to Obtain a Copy of a Last Will & Testament

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You don't have to sneak around to get your hands on a copy of the will of a friend or relative who died. Wills pass through probate and court documents are public, so a trip to the probate court will net you the document for a small copying fee.

Making a Will

It's understood that you can't take it with you, but a will allows you some control over what becomes of all the hard-earned assets you have collected throughout your lifetime. The legal document records your plan for who gets what when you die. If a will is executed correctly – that is, prepared, signed and witnessed as required by state statutes – the law requires that the deceased's wishes be followed.

Probating a Will

State probate court oversees the administration of most wills. When someone dies, the person she selected and named in the will to supervise her affairs, called the executor, files the will with probate court. The executor then gathers together the various estate assets, pays taxes and other estate debts, and renders an accounting to the court before distributing the property. The minute the will is filed with the court, anyone who wishes to obtain a copy can do so.

Viewing a Will

You can obtain a copy of a will by visiting the probate court in the county in which the individual died. Take the death certificate with you, if possible, or at least provide the full name and address of the deceased and her date of death. The court clerk helps you locate the probate file and, for a per-page fee, you can request copies of any documents you find in the file, including the will.

Other Options

If it's too difficult for you to get to the probate court, you can ask the executor for a copy of the will. The executor retains copies of the original will and distributes them to beneficiaries named in the document. Although not required by law to do so, executors often provide copies to anyone with a legitimate interest in the estate. Write a short note and enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope to put the odds in your favor.

About the Author

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.

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