Have you ever resolved a matter by flipping a coin? Wills are like coins with two, opposite sides: private and public. While a person is alive, his will is totally private and nobody has the right to see it without his permission. After he dies, and the will goes to probate proceedings, the document is open to public view. That is true in most states, including wills filed in Florida. To obtain a copy of the will of a father, friend or acquaintance, you simply have to contact the clerk of the appropriate Florida probate court.
Florida Probate Laws
State of Florida court records are generally public records. This includes most Florida probate court records. Probate courts are the tribunals that handle the court-supervised process where the estate of someone who has died is organized, assets collected, bills and taxes paid, and then the proceeds distributed to the beneficiaries of the will.
If a person dies leaving a valid will in Florida, this is one of the first documents filed in the probate proceeding of his estate. The will sets out who will inherit his property and usually also names a trusted individual as executor, responsible for shepherding the estate through probate.
Obtaining Wills Filed in Florida
If your father recently died in Florida, it may be that his probate case is still open. The easiest way to get a copy of the will is to contact the executor of the estate and request one. If you know who the executor is, this might be just a phone call. If you don't know who was named executor, you can call the Florida probate court in the county in which your father resided. Give the clerk your father's name and date of death and ask for the the name and phone number of the executor.
But it might be quicker to simply go to the clerk of court's office and make a copy of the will. While state law prohibits the court from making Florida probate files available on a public internet site, you can show up in person at the probate court, review the file and order the document copied for a modest per-page fee.
Read More: How to File a Will & Testament in Florida
Ordering Copies of Probate Documents
If you live across the country or on the other side of the planet, you can order a copy of the will. The court clerk will send you, either online or by mail, copies of any document not sealed by Florida law, probate rules or a court order. You must fill out the order form and pay the service fee of $1.00 per page. You should also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your request.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/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.