Locating a filed will of a deceased person is often the first step for probate, the legal proceeding used to settle an estate and distribute assets to heirs. The person filing a petition for probate needs to locate the original will of the deceased person in order to move forward in court. A will may have been filed for safekeeping by the deceased person while he was still alive. If you cannot locate a will for your departed loved one, checking the local courts may help you find the document.
Write down the name of the deceased person. Verify the name is spelled correctly; a mistake in the spelling may make locating a will difficult. Get the middle name of the person if he had a common last name like Smith or Miller.
Locate the probate or surrogate court responsible for the area where the deceased person lived. Visit the official website of your state's court system to find the address for the court you must visit.
Visit the appropriate probate or surrogate's office. Bring your state identification with you. Give the court clerk the name you wrote and ask if a will has been filed. Some states may not give you the information or require you to show identification.
Write down the locations of real estate the deceased person owned if no will is filed in the court that has jurisdiction over her main residence. A will may have been filed in another locale where she owned real estate.
Visit the official state court system website for each area where the deceased person owned real estate. Locate the court responsible for each area. Write down the contact information and address for each court.
Visit the office of the other courts that are near you. Probate and surrogate courts typically will not give out information over the phone. Give each clerk the deceased person's name and ask if a will was filed.
Contact the courts that are not near you. Request instructions for looking up a filed will. You may be required to visit the court office in person, but some courts will send you a request form in the mail that you can complete and return. Ask if any fees are required for a will search through the mail, and write down the acceptable payment methods.
- Oregon State Bar: What is Probate?
- Hamilton County Probate Court: Instructions for Depositing an Original Will
- Hamilton County Probate Court: Frequently Asked Questions About Will Deposit
- Probate Court of Cuyahoga County, Ohio: Estates FAQs
- New York State Unified Court System. "Last Will and Testament." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. "About Probate - How to Probate a Decedent's Estate." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Get a Copy of a Will." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. "U.S. Court of Federal Claims Fee Schedule." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- FindLaw. "What Happens if You Don't Probate a Will? - Penalties to the Personal Representative." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- Niehaus Law Office, LLC. "Probate vs. Non-Probate Assets." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. "Simplified Probate Procedures." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
- Judicial Council of California. "Simplified Procedures to Transfer an Estate." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.