How To Find Out if a Will Exists for Free: Online Will Public Records

Headshot photo of criminal records expert and Background Check Repair author Kristy Griffin, JDWritten by Kristy Griffin

Background Checks | October 24, 2022

Man on the left with his hand on his chin wonders how to find out if a will exists for free online while looking at an official will document that has been certified and a court house on the right.

Many people wonder how to find out if a will exists for free online.

When a person writes a Last Will and Testament (a “Will”) it is not automatically filed in the public records. However, when the testator dies, the executor of his estate or another person with legal standing may probate the Will with the proper court.

Once the Will document is filed into probate court, it becomes a public record and is accessible to anyone. Many courts have their records available for search online.

If fact, anyone can learn how to find out if a will exists for free online by doing a basic free record search now.

If the court where the Will was filed has an online database, anyone can search it and access the Will. If the court does not have online access, anyone can go to the physical probate court to search for and obtain a copy of the Will.

This guide explains exactly how to find out if a will exists for free online, or how to track it down manually.

How To Find a Will in Public Records for Free

Anyone can access public records for free. If the court has a free online searchable database, a person can do an online search to locate a decedent’s Will. If the court housing the Will does not have a free online database, it can still be found by going in person to the courthouse and asking to see the public record of the succession. However, there is usually a charge to obtain a copy of the Will.

Screenshot of U.S. Will Registry website page for US Will Registry profile with yellow arrow pointing to how to find a missing will.

The US Will Registry helps users find older wills and documents.

Related Reading: Free Background Check California: Search CA Public Records, Arrests

How To Find Out if a Will Exists Online

To find out if a Will exists online, you need to know some basic facts. Follow these steps to locate a Will online:

  1. Find out the decedent’s full name.
  2. Determine the date and location of the decedent’s death.
  3. Determine the place of the decedent’s residence when they died.
  4. Contact the county probate court in the jurisdiction of the decedent’s residence.
  5. Ask the probate court whether a succession has been opened for the decedent’s estate.
  6. Run your search to see if the court has an online searchable public records database.
  7. If the court does not have an online database, you may need to travel there or ask if they offer copies by phone.
  8. If the court in the decedent’s residence has no succession record, you may also contact any county in which the decedent held real property or the county in which they died if different from the county of their residence.

How To Find Out if a Will Is in Probate

If you know the executor of the Will, you can ask them whether the Will has been probated. If the Will has not yet been probated, the executor may provide you with a copy or allow you to review it if you are an heir or legatee.

In some states, you can even file a request for notice of filing a Will if you have legal standing to do so. You can also search the probate court records to find out if the Will has been probated. If a probate proceeding has begun, the Will should be a public record, and you may view it and obtain a copy.

You need to provide the court with the name and date of death of the testator so they can complete a search of their records.

How To Find Out if a Will Is Registered

The registration of a Will is entirely voluntary and does not impact the validity of the Will. Some states offer Will registration with their Secretary of State’s office. There are also other Will registries, such as the U.S. Will Registry.1

These registries do not store the original or a copy of a person’s Will. Instead, it offers testators a way to register the existence and location of their Will. If the original Will cannot be located upon a testator’s death, the registry Will notify the testator’s loved ones of the registered location.

Each Secretary of State’s office Will have its procedures for registering a Will. The U.S. Will Registry allows anyone to register their Will online for free. The Will document is not actually stored. Instead, the location of the original and duplicate copies of the Will is documented. If a testator wants to have their Will stored in a safe location, the U.S. Will Registry has partnered with a separate company that offers free online storage of a Last Will and Testament.

Screenshot of Office of the Secretary of State New Jersey website page with yellow arrow pointing to Will Registry- Form WR 1.

Will registry form WR1, issued by the state of New Jersey Secretary of State, is used by people who want to create their will.

That service helps ensure that a Will is not lost or accidentally destroyed. When a testator registers their Will, they provide a list of their heirs, legatees, and executors who may access the information about the Will after the testator’s death.

Anyone may search the U.S. Will Registry for the existence of a Will registered between 1967 and the present. However, if a Will is located on the online database, the information about the Will is only released upon submission of the required documentation, including a death certificate and proper identification of the person having permission to access it.

State Secretary of StateOffice Location
Alabama SoSAL Secretary of State
Alaska SoSAK Lieutenant Governor
Arizona SoSAZ Secretary of State
Arkansas SoSAK Secretary of State
California SoSCA Secretary of State
Colorado SoSCO Secretary of State
Connecticut SoSCT Secretary of the State
Delaware SoSDL Department of State
Florida SoSFL Department of State
Georgia SoSGA Secretary of State
Hawaii SoSHI Lieutenant Governor
Idaho SoSID Secretary of State’s Office
Illinois SoSIL Secretary of State
Indiana SoSIN Secretary of State
Iowa SoSIA Secretary of State
Kansas SoSKS Secretary of State
Kentucky SoSKY Secretary of State
Louisiana SoSLA Secretary of State
Maine SoSME Secretary of State
Maryland SoSMD Secretary of State
Massachusetts SoSMA Secretary of the Commonwealth
Michigan SoSMI Secretary of State
Minnesota SoSMN Secretary of State
Mississippi SoSMS Secretary of State
Missouri SoSMO Secretary of State
Montana SoSMT Secretary of State
Nebraska SoSNE Secretary of State
Nevada SoSNV Secretary of State
New Hampshire SoSNH Secretary of State
New Jersey SoSNJ Secretary of State
New Mexico SoSNM Secretary of State
New York SoSNY Department of State
North Carolina SoSNC Secretary of State
North Dakota SoSND Secretary of State
Ohio SoSOH Secretary of State
Oklahoma SoSOK Secretary of State
Oregon SoSOR Secretary of State
Pennsylvania SoSPA Department of State
Rhode Island SoSRI Secretary of State
South Carolina SoSSC Secretary of State
South Dakota SoSSD Secretary of State
Tennessee SoSTN Secretary of State
Texas SoSTX Secretary of State
Utah SoSUT Lieutenant Governor
Vermont SoSVT Secretary of State
Virginia SoSVA Secretary of the Commonwealth
Washington SoSWA Secretary of State
West Virginia SoSWV Secretary of State
Wisconsin SoSWI Office of the Secretary of State
Wyoming SoSWY Secretary of State

How To Find a Will of a Deceased Person Online

If you have basic information about the testator, such as their full name, date of birth, and place of residence, there are several ways how to find out if a Will exists for free online, including

  • Search the online U.S. Will Registry to locate a Will that has been registered;
  • Search the online database of the Secretary of State’s office in the decedent’s state of residence; and
  • Search the probate county courts’ online database where the decedent resided, died, or owned real estate.

How To Find Probate Records Online Free

Probate records are public records and therefore are freely accessible to anyone. However, some courts have databases online that are only searchable with a subscription. Other courts allow the public free online access to their probate records.

By locating the probate records online, try contacting the probate attorney listed in the record to see if they will provide a free copy of the probate documents.

How To Find the Lawyer That Wrote a Will

If the testator of the Will has died, contact the county court where they last resided to see if a probate proceeding has been filed. If so, the attorney who wrote the Will is often the same one who files the probate proceedings; therefore, the attorney should be listed in the record.

However, if a different attorney filed the probate proceedings, they usually file a petition to probate the Will with the court. In the petition to probate, there should be a factual statement regarding when and where the Will was executed and who drafted the Will. If the attorney also notarized the Will, his signature and notary information will be included on the document.

If you cannot locate a probate proceeding in any court, you may want to search the public records in counties where the decedent previously resided or owned property.

If you still have no luck, you might consider putting out an ad in the decedent’s local newspaper or in the state bar journal to ask that any attorney who provided legal services to the decedent contact you.

Depending on the probate court, you may be able to conduct an online records search. However, if the court does not offer a free online records search, they might offer a telephone or mail-in search request. Otherwise, you will need to take the following steps:

  1. Go to the courthouse where the probate proceeding is filed. (This is likely located in the decedent’s county of residence but could also be in the county where the decedent died or where the decedent owned real estate.)
  2. Give the probate court clerk the decedent’s name and date of death.
  3. If a probate proceeding has been filed with the court, the clerk will be able to provide you with a case number for the proceeding.
  4. You may then either search yourself through a digital database or have the clerk assist you in locating the probate records for your review.
  5. If you wish to have a copy of the Will or other probate documents, determine whether you need a plain or certified copy for your records and pay the necessary fees to the clerk.

County Probate Records

When a person dies, his property will be distributed to his heirs or legatees. To transfer the decedent’s property, probate is a necessary legal proceeding. The probate proceeding is filed in the county clerk’s office in the proper jurisdiction.

Screenshot of Loudoun County, Virginia website page for clerk of the circuit court with yellow arrow pointing to probate records search in Loudoun County, Virginia.

County clerks also hold will records, like this website for Loudoun County, Virginia, for users to search for will records online in both the current and archive probate records.

Proper jurisdiction depends upon the state’s laws; however, probate proceedings usually are filed in the county where the decedent last resided or the county where they died or owned real estate. The county clerk of court maintains all court documents filed with it, including the county probate records.

Probate Public Records and Will Registry by State (How To Find Out if a Will Exists for Free Online)

Several states have established a Last Will and Testament registry for testators to either file a copy of their Will or register the existence and location of the Will. In some other states, private companies offer that service for a fee. Of course, a resident of any state may choose to register their Will with the U.S. Will Registry.

Probate records are considered public records in all 50 states.

Many states that do not have a state registry for a Last Will and Testament do offer a registry for advanced directive documents, often called “living Wills.” A living will is a declaration or instruction regarding a person’s medical care wishes for the end of life and is a completely different document from a Last Will and Testament, which we refer to in this article as a Will. The following chart shows which states have established a state registry for last Will and testaments.

StateHas State Will RegistryNo Will, State Will RegistryAre Wills Public Records?Find Will Records
Alabama Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Alaska Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Arizona Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
California Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Colorado Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Connecticut Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Delaware Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Florida Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Georgia Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Hawaii Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Idaho Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Illinois Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Indiana Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Illinois Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Indiana Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Iowa Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Kansas Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Kentucky Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Louisiana Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Maine Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Maryland Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Massachusetts Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Michigan Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Minnesota Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Mississippi Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Missouri Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Montana Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Nebraska Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Nevada Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
New Hampshire Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
New Jersey Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
New Mexico Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
New York Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
North Carolina Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
North Dakota Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Ohio Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Oklahoma Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Oregon Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Pennsylvania Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Rhode Island Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
South Carolina Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
South Dakota Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Tennessee Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Texas Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Utah Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Vermont Probate Records OnlineYesYesSearch by County Probate Office
Virginia Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Washington Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
West Virginia Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Wisconsin Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office
Wyoming Probate Records OnlineNoYesSearch by County Probate Office

Most of the states that have a Will registry offer the service for a nominal fee. For example, the New Jersey Will Registry, which was established through the Secretary of State in September 2005, charges a fee of $10 to file a Will Registry Form.

The same fee is charged for the retrieval of the Will Registry Form. The form may be filed by any testator or their attorney and only contains basic information about the Will. Under New Jersey law, only “interested persons” may search the Will Registry for a testator’s Will.

Screenshot of Department of State website page for will registry with yellow arrow pointing to function of Office of the Secretary of State in maintenance of Will registry.

Every state’s Secretary of State registers wills for residents in the state, while probate offices process them.

The state statute considers interested persons to be children, spouses, legatees, heirs, and creditors of the testator, as well as any other person having a significant right against the testator’s estate. Further, the location of the Will shall only be disclosed to the testator’s named executor or fiduciaries.

How To Get a Copy of a Will After Death

How to get a copy of a Will after death depends on a person’s relationship with the testator. If a person is an heir to the decedent, they are entitled to receive a copy of the Will from the decedent’s executor or attorney. If a person has no legal standing to receive a copy of the Will, they may not be able to access a copy until it is filed as a public record in the probate court.

How Much Does a Certified Copy of a Will Cost?

The cost of a certified copy of a Will depends on a person’s relationship with the decedent. If the person is an heir, they will likely be provided a free certified copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. However, if a person has no legal relationship with the decedent, they may be able to pay a nominal fee to the probate court and receive a copy of the Will.

Where Are Wills Usually Stored?

Wills may be kept in many locations. However, the following areas are common places to store a Last Will and Testament:

  • In a bank safe deposit box;
  • In a fire-safe box in a home;
  • At an attorney’s office;
  • In a home or office filing cabinet; and
  • With the named executor or other trusted person.

What if I Can’t Find the Original Will?

In most courts, only the original Last Will and Testament is considered valid. The theory behind this policy is that the decedent may have changed their mind and destroyed the original Will even though there may have been copies circulating that the decedent did not destroy. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. A copy of the Will may be admissible if you can provide evidence that the original was accidentally lost or was unintentionally destroyed.

For example, if you can prove that a fire destroyed the Will and the testator did not have the opportunity to create a new Will prior to their death, a copy of the Will may be able to be probated.

How Do You Know Whether Someone Had a Will? (How To Find Out if a Will Exists for Free)

If a person dies and you don’t know whether they had a Will, you may need to do some digging around. You can check the U.S. Will Registry or the state Will registry if the decedent’s state has one. It is also a good idea to check safe deposit boxes, filing cabinets in the home or business, and the tester’s computer.

You may want to ask those closest to the decedent, such as a surviving spouse, adult children, business partners, or friends. In addition, if you know the name of a lawyer used by the decedent, you could contact them to see if they prepared a Will.

What Is Probate of a Will?

When a testator dies, his executor should file the Will with the probate court in the proper jurisdiction. The executor or administrator of the estate manages the estate until all the assets are distributed to the heirs or legatees. Probate is a “proving” of the Will whereby the court determines if the Will is valid and hears any contests to the Will.

Screenshot of Commonwealth of Massachusetts website page for probate of wills and estates with yellow arrow pointing to who can be an estate personal representative.

State of Massachusetts official website with links explaining when it’s necessary to probate an estate.

Once all debts of the estate are paid, and there are no contests, the executor will distribute the assets according to the Will, and then the probate will be closed. The probate of a Will may take many months or even years if there is a great deal of property and debt or if there is a Will contest.

Related Reading: How to Find Bankruptcies on Public Records (Bankruptcies Free Search)

Knowing how to find out if a will exists for free online can seem tricky, but it’s really just a matter of doing some quick searches.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Find Out if a Will Exists for Free

Do Lawyers File Wills With the County or the State?

In most states, lawyers file Wills in probate court records in the county where the deceased person resided. Generally, Wills are not filed anywhere until a person dies, at which time it is then probated in the proper court.

How Do I Get a Copy of a Will Before a Person Dies?

The only way to get a copy of a Will before the death of the testator is if the testator gives you a copy. Even if the testator has registered their Will with the National Will Registry, you will not be able to access a copy of it.

Is the National Will Registry a Government Agency?

No, the U.S. Will Registry is not a United States government agency. It is an online platform for testators to register their Will. The national database is searchable by the testator’s name, date of birth, and state of residence. The U.S. Will Registry includes Wills from 1967 to the present.

What Happens if a Person Dies Without a Will?

If a person dies without a Will, their property will be distributed according to their state’s probate laws. A probate court shall appoint an administrator of the estate, whereas, if the decedent had created a Will, they would have customarily appointed an executor to handle the estate. In most states, a person’s property is distributed to their closest heirs, including their children and surviving spouse.

What Is a Certified Copy of a Will?

A certified copy of a document has been identified and confirmed to be an accurate or true copy of the original document. The probate court can provide certified copies of an original Will that has been filed in its court.


References

1The U.S. Will Registry. (2022). Find a Missing Will. The U.S. Will Registry. Retrieved October 03, 2022, from <https://www.theuswillregistry.org/missing-will-search-request>

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