If someone dies in Missouri and you want to read the will or make a copy of it, all it takes is a trip to the right probate court. Like in most states, wills in Missouri are public documents. Once the person making the will dies, the will is filed in court and open for public inspection.
Wills as Private Documents
A will is a legal document that sets out who is to inherit property on the death of the person making the will, termed the testator. Anyone at least 18 years old can make a will in Missouri. To be valid in the state, the document must be signed by the testator, and that signature must be witnessed by two adults. A will is a private document and completely revocable while the testator is alive, but its character changes when the testator dies.
Wills Public After Death
A will is necessarily irrevocable once the testator dies, and, if it's valid, its terms will be enforced by the probate court. Generally wills name a personal representative, the person who will shepherd the document through the court-supervised probate process. In Missouri, the courts of general jurisdiction are called circuit courts, and probate courts are one division of those courts. A personal representative files the will of a deceased testator in probate court after the death in order to begin the probate process. Once it is filed, the will is a public record that can be viewed by anyone.
Finding the Will in Probate Court
A will is generally filed and probated in the circuit court of the Missouri county in which the testator resided just before death. Each of Missouri's 45 judicial circuits has a court, so you'll need to find out which one covers the county in which the testator resided. One way is to look on the link to the circuit courts on your Missouri courts website. Another method is to use the Case.net website's search feature. Probate files from 2004 and later are available for viewing online.
Going into the Court
Once you have determined where the will has been filed, you can obtain a copy by visiting that county's probate court. Bring with you the name, last address and date of death of the testator. If you have the probate court file number, that speeds up the process. You can place an order for the will and pay the per-page copying fee. The court clerk will locate the probate file and make the copy, usually within 48 hours.
Read More: Do Wills Need to Be Filed With a Court?
Depending on the county in which the will is filed, you may be able to locate the will and obtain copies without setting foot in Missouri. For example, in St. Louis, you can place an order for a copy of a will by phone, mail, fax or Internet. Phone the appropriate probate court to learn your options.
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.