How to Find a Will in Florida Court Records

Last will and testament papers and key as symbol of property.
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In Florida, an individual can obtain a copy of a will from the probate court if the will has been filed with the court. A will becomes public record when it is filed with the court. The custodian of the will is required to deposit the will with the clerk of the Circuit Court within 10 days after receiving information that the person is dead. The custodian must deposit the will in the county in which the person who passed resided.

Last Will and Testament Is Not Available Online

Florida courts do not post a copy of a will or other probate records online. An individual who wants a copy of the will should visit the civil courthouse in the county where the deceased person lived. The clerk is required to retain and preserve the original will in its original form for at least 20 years.

The clerk may also transform or store the will on film, microfilm, magnetic, electronic, optical or other media or in an electronic record-keeping system. Such actions do not eliminate the requirement to preserve the original will.

Fees for Copies

The fees for copies of a will differ by county. A person interested in obtaining a copy of the will should check the fee schedule for the proper county civil court. In Hillsborough County, for example, the fee for photocopying a document in the public record that measures no more than 8.5 by 14 inches is $1.00 per page. The fee for photocopying a document that is larger than 8.5 by 14 inches is $5.00 per page. Certifying a copy of a document in the public records costs $2.00 per page. The fee for notarizing papers is $10.00 per page.

Copies of an Unfiled Will

When a decedent has passed, but the will has not been filed or probated, it is not yet part of the public record. Individuals may still be able to get copies of the will if it names them as beneficiaries, people who will receive property under the will. A guardian of a minor child may also be permitted to obtain a copy of the will.

An individual can also contact the personal representative for the estate to request a copy of the will. Florida law provides that a personal representative is a fiduciary, one party that acts for another and puts the other person’s interests ahead of their own. In other states, a personal representative is called an administrator or executor.

A personal representative may be a person, a bank or a trust company. The personal representative is appointed by the judge to be in charge of the administration of the decedent’s Florida probate estate. The personal representative may share a copy of the will if the individual requesting it has an important reason to see it. If they do not know the name of the personal representative, they can obtain a copy of the death certificate from the county.

Florida Probate Rules for the Administration of a Will

An individual should follow the progress of the will through the probate procedure to determine whether they will receive any assets. Probate is the process through which the decedent’s estate is distributed to beneficiaries and debts are paid to the deceased's creditors. The court in the decedent’s last county of residence or the county where the decedent’s real property is located typically oversees the probate process.

An individual can initiate a probate proceeding by filing a petition with the probate court. Any interested person can ask to be appointed as the personal representative to distribute property. An attorney licensed in Florida usually prepares the petition. The appointed person is responsible for the estate until the estate pays all the bills and distributes the assets to the beneficiaries.

Probate Case Search

An individual can find out if a probate case has been filed by performing a case search online at the clerk of court’s website. They can also go to a courthouse located in the proper county and perform a name search for the decedent on a public access terminal. In addition, they can mail a written request to the clerk of court.

For a written request, the individual should provide the decedent’s full name and date of death, as well as a self-addressed, stamped envelope and the search fee for each decedent. The fee differs by county. Payment is usually accepted by business check, cashier’s check or money order.

Ways to Administer a Florida Estate

The three types of proceedings for administering an estate are formal administration, summary administration and disposition of personal property without administration. A formal administration is used when the estate has many assets. A formal administration must be filed by a Florida-licensed attorney, unless the personal representative is the only beneficiary.

A summary administration is used when the value of the estate is $75,000 or less. The amount does not include exempt property such as a homestead. A summary administration can also be used when the decedent has been dead for over two years.

Disposition of personal property without administration is used to reimburse a person who paid for final expenses, such as funeral costs or medical bills, that the decedent incurred in the last 60 days of their life. All claims are barred after two years. Such a proceeding must be filed within two years of the decedent’s passing. Typically, a disposition of personal property cannot exceed the amount of the funeral bill or $6,000, whichever is less. A disposition of personal property cannot be used if the decedent owned real estate.

Contesting a Will

An individual should get a copy of the will if they plan to contest it by filing a petition to contest the will in probate court. Grounds for contesting a will include that the will contained irregularities that make it invalid, such as not being signed by the testator or not being signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses.

An individual can also contest a will if the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time they made the will. A testator must be of sound mind when they create their will and know the extent of their property. The testator may lack testamentary capacity if they did not understand what they were doing when they created the will or they did not know the identities of the beneficiaries.

A will can also be contested if another party exercised undue influence over the testator. This means a party who substantially benefits from the will made the testator change the terms of the will or write the will in a certain way. The person contesting the will must show that the individual exercising undue influence completely controlled the testator, who had no free will because they had mental and emotional control over them.

Seek Legal Advice Before Contesting a Will

An individual must have standing to contest a will. A Florida-licensed wills attorney can explain the procedures and paperwork involved in a will contest and help estimate the potential recovery, the expense and length of time of a will contest.