There are important times in life where you will find yourself needing to get a copy of a last will and testament.
It could be that you will need the will for legal reasons concerning money or possessions, or perhaps it’s just out of interest. Whatever your intentions, getting a copy of a will can be difficult.
But how do you go about doing this, if you’ve never had to find one before? If you find yourself trying to get a copy of a will, but unable to know where to start – this is the article for you.
This is a short guide that will take you through the ins and outs of getting a copy of a will.
What Is A Will?
Before we go about trying to find ways of getting a copy of a will, let’s first define exactly what a will is.
A will – more professionally known as a Last Will and Testament – is an official legal document that communicates the final wishes of a person regarding their assets.
Typically, a Last Will and Testament will explain what to do with their possessions, management of accounts, as well as what to do with their dependants (children, family members ect).
A person will write a will whilst they’re still alive, and the contents of that document are only carried out once that person dies.
A will generally select a live person as the ‘executor’ of it – that person becomes solely responsible for carrying out the wishes of that will.
A probate court is usually a supervisor to this process to make sure that all of this is carried out legally in accordance with that person’s will.
Who’s Will Are You Looking For?
The first thing you must do when trying to get a copy of a will is to consider whose will it is that you are trying to find.
A Living Person’s Will
If you are looking for the will of somebody who is still living, you don’t have very many options. A last will and testament is a private document, so you have to get permission from the person who wrote the will or had it written for them.
The person who’s will it is, is called the testator and is free to distribute or show thee will to anyone they want to, before or after their death.
Their will could be in many different places, though wills are often kept at the office of their attorney or filed within a probate court.
If you’re trying to get a copy of a living person’s will, the best way you can do this is to ask them personally.
Otherwise, there isn’t any legal way for you to get hold of a private document, and especially not to make a copy.
A Deceased Person’s Will
If you are close to a deceased person, it is likely you may feature in some way in their will. In the case of a death, the executor of their will is likely to notify you regarding the contents of their will.
In this case, it may be easy enough to ask the executor for a copy of the will. It is likely they will allow you to see it in this case.
If not, there is a chance for you to get a copy of a will from probate court. Probate court is just a court that deals in matters of probate – which is the legal procedure of a court overseeing the last will and testimony of a deceased person.
If the testator of the will has passed away, their will that has been filed with the probate court of their county will open and it will become public record.
This may take some time after their death, however, for there are procedures that have to be followed before.
The easiest way for you to view the will is to get a hold of your probate court file number. This number can be found easiest by contacting the executor of the person’s will and they will be able to give it to you.
If the executor can’t or won’t give you the number, then you might be able to access the probate court file by phoning, searching online, or in-person if you show up at the courthouse with details of the deceased person.
Wills That Have Not Yet Been Filed
If you find yourself in a situation where a member of your family or a close friend has died, but there is no official will filed through probate court, it doesn’t mean they don’t have one.
It is possible that they have one within their home. Make sure you check in places they might have kept something valuable, it could be important to ensure that their last will is carried out.
Now if they have a will you don’t know about, but it has not yet been filed, you might find it more difficult to get a copy of.
But don’t worry! You still might be able to get a copy, there are circumstances that mean you might have access to the document – but it depends on your relationship to the will.
If you are either a beneficiary of the will or a parent or legal guardian of a beneficiary, then it is likely you will be permitted access to the document.
If you classify as either of these, you will want to get in contact with the executor of the will and ask to see it.
Although Last Will and Testament documents are private and have a lot of legal protection around them, there are a few ways to get hold of a copy should you need to.
Generally, we recommend researching a little about the laws of the specific state you’re in, as this can alter how difficult/easy it is to obtain a copy.
It can take a bit of time and effort, but with some well-placed calls and research, it’s usually possible!