A last will and testament details what should happen to someone’s money and belongings after they die. However, no one can follow the terms of the will if they can’t find the will. If you’re the executor of an estate and need to find the decedent’s will, besides asking family and friends if they know where it is, there are a few other ideas that may help, like checking with the county clerk. If you need a copy of a will that’s already gone through probate and entered into the public record, there are some general steps you should follow so that you can find the correct case number and then locate the will.
Probate can begin with or without a will
If the decedent’s family doesn’t know where the will is, you may be able to contact the lawyer or service that helped create the will
To find a will in the public record, you will need to visit the local courthouse where the decedent’s permanent address was
How to find the will of a deceased person
If you are the executor of someone’s estate and you need to find their will, you may want to start by asking the decedent’s surviving spouse, other close family, or friends if they know where the will is stored. They may also know places where the decedent liked to store important documents, like a filing cabinet or safe.
If the decedent created their will with an estate lawyer, there may be a copy of the will stored with the lawyer. If the will was created using an online will service (like Policygenius), you may be able to find the will by logging into the decedent’s account or by contacting the service. It’s also possible that someone stored their will with their county clerk.
Keep in mind that to receive a copy of the will, you may first need to initiate probate and receive the letters testamentary, which gives you the legal right to handle the decedent’s estate. For example, if you need a bank to let you into the decedent’s safe deposit box, you will need to prove that you should have access to the document.
Learn more about where to store your will.
Tips for finding the will of a deceased person
Ask the decedent’s close family and friends.
Contact the decedent’s lawyer if the will was made with a lawyer.
If the will was made through an online service, try logging in to the decedent’s account or contact the service administrator.
Check any safe deposit boxes the decedent owned.
Check with the county clerk where the decedent lived.
Related: What happens if you die without a will?
How to find a will in the public record
If you need a copy of someone’s will that has already entered into the public record, you should look at the probate court where the will was filed. This is likely the local courthouse for the decedent’s permanent residence and may go by different names. You will need to either visit the court in person, or you can submit a written request that a copy be mailed to you. Some courts may not mail copies and you will need to pay the copying fee either way.
4 steps to find a will in the public record
1. Visit the court where the will was originally filed.
2. Speak with a county clerk and provide the decedent’s name and date of death. You may need to first get a copy of the death certificate if you don’t know the date of death.
3. After receiving the case number from the clerk, you can look through the records to find the will. Some courts have digitized or microfilm probate records, and some only have physical copies. Ask the clerk if you need help searching the system.
4. To make a copy of the will, you need to pay the fee. The fee for copies of a will is usually charged by the page.
Related article: Are wills public record?