How to Access Registered Wills

Probate records confirm the testamentary intent of deceased people. They include wills and lists of property, and they may be examined to determine who has the right to an inheritance. After the death of the person, the will is probated, and then made available to the public. Following these steps will enable you to access a registered will.

Use the internet to find the court where the probate records are stored.
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Determine the location of the probate records. Wills are normally filed in the county in which the testator or will maker died. If the person died recently, this should be easy to determine. But if you are accessing a will for a historic research project, bear in mind that the name of the county or the spelling of that county's name could have changed. Also, annexation can result in boundaries changing. For example, parts of Chesterfield County, Virginia, have been annexed to the City of Richmond. So the person passed away in what was then part of a county, but that land has since been annexed to become part of the bordering city.

Use a phone directory or the Internet to find the address of the clerk's office that holds the records.

Search by last name.
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Search the index. Before asking for a court record, find the name of the person in an index. The names are listed alphabetically by last name. Some offices have an online index, while others must be searched physically at the office. After you locate the correct name, file a request with the clerk's office. Some court offices prefer that you make your request on the phone.

Photocopy the registered will.
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Examine the records. While going through the records, be careful not to damage them. You may want to wear gloves to avoid degrading the paper. Also, quickly peruse the documents and make a list of ones you want copied.

In your search for a registered will, you may find a number of different documents These may include a will, trust, codicil (amendment to the will), a probate record, a list of heirs, estate inventory, a report by the heirs on how to divide the estate, and an inventory of securities. Depending on your reason for doing this search, these other documents may be useful. Make copies of the registered will and other documents.

Warnings

  • If the reason for your search is genealogical, you may find records that tell you many things about an ancestor. Some of the evidence will make you feel good about your heritage. But it may tell something you did not want to know about people with your family name.

Tips

  • When speaking with court employees, be polite. While they carry a heavy work burden, they can be helpful if you treat them with respect.

References

About the Author

John Toivonen is an attorney in Lansing, Mich., and has been a professional writer since 1999. His work has appeared in "The Washington Times." He holds a Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Guilford College.

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