If a relative or friend dies and you wonder whether you've been named in the will, it costs nothing to find out. The will has been or will soon be filed with the probate court in the jurisdiction where she resided before death. It's a public document and you can view it there.
Check Probate Filings
If your deceased friend or relative left a valid will, it's very likely filed with the probate court in the county in which she lived. Although a will is a private document while the person who makes it is alive, it becomes a public document when she dies and it's filed with the court. Most wills have to go through a court-supervised process where debts and assets are gathered before inheritances are distributed.
A will is among the first documents filed in the probate process. You can call or visit the court clerk's office to see whether it's been filed and to get the probate case number. In some states, the court clerk will copy the document and mail it to you for a fee.
Read More: Where to Probate a Will
When There Is No Will
If your friend or relative dies without a will, she didn't actually "leave" you money. You still might inherit from her, however, if you're among her closest blood relatives. When someone dies without a will, the property passes under the state's intestacy statutes. Each state's laws differ, but generally the surviving spouse receives the lion's share, followed by the decedent's children. Parents and siblings often come next in line. To figure out whether you might get part of the estate, research the relevant state's intestacy statute to see where you fall in line.
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.