How To Get a Copy of a Will

Updated September 12, 2023
13 min read
How To Get A Copy Of A Will


There's a moment in life when you may need to understand how to get a copy of a will. Perhaps you're an appointed executor, a beneficiary, or a family member interested in understanding the decedent's final wishes. Whatever the reason, getting a copy of a will can feel like a complex process. This guide will help you navigate through the steps necessary to procure a copy of a will.

Understanding Wills

A will, often referred to as a last will and testament within U.S. legal jargon, is more than just a document. It's a roadmap that outlines how an individual's assets should be disseminated after their passing. Beyond matters of property distribution, a will, including a copy of a living will, often houses key decisions. It may sketch out preferred funeral arrangements and in the case of minor children, identify their guardians.

People may get a ready-made last will and testament template to avoid legal headaches and extra expenses.

To illustrate how to get a copy of a will, let's consider a specific U.S. law example from California. Under the California Probate Code Section 8200, a will's custodian must lodge it with the county's superior court within 30 days of learning about the testator's (the person who made the will) death. So, if you're seeking a copy of a will in California, lodging a request with the appropriate county court is a good place to start.

Acquainting yourself with the specifics of a copy of a living will, and where to unearth one can provide relief during tough times. Whether you're getting a copy of a will as an executor or as a family member seeking clarity, being in the know can be incredibly time-saving, allowing you to focus on other pressing matters. In the world of estate planning, a stitch in time certainly saves nine.

When Can a Copy of a Will Be Requested

There are several instances when individuals dealing with estate planning might question when they can get a copy of a will. Establishing those key moments can provide clarity on the protocol for obtaining a copy of a living will. Here are some common scenarios:

  • When a person passes away: Usually, a copy of a living will can be requested upon an individual's passing. Death triggers probate proceedings, making it the most common situation when you might need to get a copy of a will.

  • Initiation of probate proceedings: The probate process deals with the deceased's estate, following their will's instructions. When probate begins, individuals directly involved, like executors or beneficiaries, typically need to get a copy of a will.

  • Upon request by beneficiaries or executors: Beneficiaries or executors have the legal right to a copy of a will. They are often the first to receive a copy for obvious reasons — they have roles to play in the execution of the will.

  • Legal requirement by state laws: Getting a copy of a will can also be dependent on certain state regulations. These laws may dictate who has the right to access the decedent's will. Thus, it could be necessary to get a copy of a will based on these legal requirements.

Remember, privacy laws often restrict access to the decedent's will. Typically, only direct beneficiaries, executors, and individuals permitted by state law can obtain a copy of a will. Understanding these specific situations can simplify the process of getting a copy of a will, allowing for smoother estate planning.

Necessary Steps To Get a Copy of a Will

Acquiring a copy of a will involves certain steps. Here, we outline the typical strategies to help you grasp how to get a copy of a will efficiently.

  1. Identify where the will is stored: To begin the process of getting a copy of a will, you need to discover where it's housed. Usually, the will may be kept in secure locations like safe deposit boxes, home safes, or with the individual's estate attorneys. These often serve as the first port of call when beginning the quest for a copy of a living will.

  2. Requesting a copy from the executor or attorney: More often than not, the executor or the attorney of the decedent has the authority to grant a copy of a living will. It's crucial to note you may need to demonstrate your legal entitlement to access the will. 

  3. Filing a request with the probate court: In instances where the executor or attorney can't be reached, or they fail to provide a copy of a will, your next line of action could be to file a request with the probate court presiding over the will's execution.

  4. Online search options: The digital world provides several platforms where registered wills can be accessed. Though it may involve a fee and not all wills are listed online, these platforms can be a convenient alternative when trying to get a copy of a will.

  5. Things to remember when requesting a copy of a will: Ensure you're ready to provide identification, explain your reason for seeking the will, and gear up for a potentially lengthy journey. Understanding this can simplify the process of getting a copy of a will, making the experience significantly less stressful.

Understanding Probate

Probate is intrinsically a legal procedure that authenticates a will. It broadly seals the transition of the decedent's properties in congruence with their pre-declared preferences in their will, and inherent legal obligations. 

For example, under U.S. law such as Arizona's Revised Statute § 14-1301, Probate serves as the court-supervised process for gathering the deceased person's assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing what's left to inheritors. 

This protocol is an instrumental component in the journey of getting a copy of a will. It's during this phase that a copy of a living will is examined to assent to its validity, confirm the nominated executor, and assess the deceased's wishes from a legal standpoint. 

It thus becomes imperative for stakeholders intending to get a copy of a will to be privy to the probate process. Learning to navigate the ins and outs of probate proceedings proves beneficial when you want a copy of a will within the United States legal framework. 

A critical aspect is that estate size, as well as state legislation, often dictate whether probate is required. For example, in California, estates valued at less than $166,250 might not need to go through probate. Therefore, questing for a copy of a will, particularly a copy of a living will, could necessitate different processes across the U.S.

So, when planning to get a copy of a will, understanding probate under U.S. law becomes an essential first step in the process.

Obtaining a Copy of a Will in Probate

If the will is under probate, a trip to the local county clerk's office could avail you a copy of the will. Remember, you must know the county where the individual died or owned property. Be sure to bear any associated costs and to provide an acceptable form of identification. Proof of sufficient interest may be necessary but should primarily be problem-free.

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Navigating the customs of procuring a copy of a will can be challenging. But remember, you're not alone. Lawyers who work with personal issues can be of fantastic help. Along the way, they can answer questions like "How do I find a deceased will online?" or "Can an executor refuse to provide a copy of the will?" Even puzzling questions like "Who has the right to see a will after death?" can be resolved.

Getting a copy of a will doesn't have to be a strenuous journey. Platforms like Lawrina, a reliable legaltech ecosystem, make it easier by providing access to a plethora of other personal templates and documents that could be beneficial in your journey. Knowledge is your best weapon when it comes to estate matters. So, ensure you understand how to get a copy of a will, and you'll be well on your way to a smooth experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I find a deceased will online?

In the United States, once a will goes through probate, it's typically made available via public records. Many county courts in the U.S have online record systems where you can find and request a copy of a will. 


For instance, the Los Angeles Superior Court in California has an online portal where you can search for probate cases using the decedent's name. In case the will isn't listed online, most counties will have a physical office where you can request a copy of a will.

Can an executor refuse to provide a copy of the will?

Under U.S. law, once an executor files a will for probate, it becomes a public document. Executors cannot prevent beneficiaries and other interested parties from scrutinizing the will. 

In fact, under certain state laws, such as New York (NY SCPA § 1401), the executor may even be required to provide names of everyone mentioned in the will, and those who would have been rightly interested under the state's intestacy laws, a copy of a will prior to probate court.

Who has the right to see a will after death?

In most states in the U.S, beneficiaries of a will, heirs at law, or others with a rightful claim or interest can review a copy of a will after the individual's death. Once the will enters the probate process, it typically becomes a public document that can be accessed by anyone. 


A prime example would be Pennsylvania's law (20 Pa.C.S. § 3132), which provides that a person in possession of the will of an individual who has passed away has a duty to deliver it to the court, the document becoming public record, accessible to anyone interested.