After someone dies, their will becomes a matter of public record and can be found in a Missouri county probate court with other probate records. Some counties allow people searching for a will and other probate documents to do so online, while others require them to show up at the courthouse.
Missouri Probate Records
Probate records are related to a decedent's estate, whether it is testate (with a will) or intestate (without one). Whether the deceased person left a large estate or a small amount of personal property, there is likely a probate file in a Missouri county court records that includes information on the distribution of an estate's property, a minor's guardianship or the payment of a decedent's debts.
Probate records include information on accounts, administrations, bonds, decrees, distributions, inventories, petitions and wills.
While probate files vary from case to case, there are specific details that are common to most of them, particularly the names and addresses of beneficiaries and their relationship to the deceased person, which are found in a will.
Is a Will Public Record?
A will is a legal document that defines who will inherit property after the person making it (the testator) dies. Anyone who is at least 18 years old and of sound mind can create a will in Missouri. It must be signed by the testator and two witnesses for it to be valid. A will is a private document while the testator is alive, but when they die, it becomes a matter of public record.
For example, St. Louis County Circuit Court, Probate Court, hears and determines matters of the Missouri law body providing for the orderly transfer of property upon death. The court will also have information on guardians and conservators and the treatment of mentally ill persons.
Probate records reflect the growth of the county they're in – the St. Louis County Circuit Court's probate records date back to the 1880s.
Finding a Will Through the Missouri County Court System
A person looking for a will can go to the county courthouse in their area or they may be able to request the record online. First, they must determine that they have the correct court where probate of the estate occurred. This will typically be in the county where the decedent lived at the time of their death or where they owned real estate.
Individuals can check online for the county's correct name by entering the city's name or address where the deceased lived or had property. After finding the county, they can access that particular local court database. For example, Jackson County, Missouri, allows researchers to simply plug in the party name or estate number to search its online database.
Not every county has the same database or online availability. For example, when accessing the St. Louis County Circuit court, probate case information is only available online via Case.Net for probate records filed on or after July 12, 2004.
Locating Older Records in the State of Missouri
Older records can only be found by calling the county's general information line and inquiring with the probate division's file counter. Callers will need to have the name of the person and know their date of death to help make the search easier. The court clerk's office can look up several people at once, but those inquiring must fax their request with a return fax number.
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.