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How To Find a Will in Public Records Such as Court and Online Databases

How To Find a Will in Public Records
If you want to file a will in public records, the first thing you need to know is that copies of wills are not available online, at least not in the state of New York. One can visit the Surrogate’s Court’s records room to research and find the will. Unfortunately, the Surrogate’s Court does not accept email requests for research assistance. For this reason, if you are out-of-state, you can hire a lawyer to get the records that you need.

You used to be able to find anyone’s will in public records by going to the courthouse of the county whee the decedent resided. Of course you would have to know in which county the decedent resided in order to get a copy of the will. But since about 2012, that practice was stopped. Presently, you would not be able to see a copy of a decedent’s will unless you can show the court that you are either related to the person who died or are named in the will.

Since 1787, wills and other documents in New York relating to the estate of a decedent were filed in the Surrogate’s Court of the county where the decedent last resided. However, you would only be able to find the will after the person died and after someone filed the will.

Just because someone made a will does not mean that you will be able to find it. Wills are not registered until the person dies. The possible reason is, a person can change their will at any time.

Online databases can be helpful to find a will in public records

Online databases are helpful in beginning your search. The most extensive free digitized resource available is Family Search (http://www.familysearch.org). You can search historical records by name, life event, location, or collection. For probate records in New York, it’s best to browse all public collections, and then search “New York” in the collection title. Here, you will find New York births, christenings, deaths, burials, marriages, naturalization, passenger arrival, and probate records. Family Search’s probate records span from 1629 to 1971.

Print and Microfilm Collections

The New York Public Library catalog is also an excellent resource for searching New York probate records from 1888 to 1948. Their records are in microfilm, so you can only access it by personally visiting the library to research a document.

If you are looking for something more recent, then you can visit the Surrogate’s Court of the county where the decedent last resided in. If you are unsure of the county where the decedent last resided in, you can request for a death certificate from the Office of Vital Records of the New York government. The death certificate will show the address of the decedent upon death. If the decedent had a will, the probate for the will would be filed in the Surrogate’s Court of the county of decedent’s residence.

If the decedent had no will, there will be no probate, but a petition for letters of administration could have been filed. If the decedent’s estate is less than $50,000 of personal property, it is considered a small estate under voluntary administration. Estates of people dying without a will can be obtained from the no-will file of the Surrogate’s Court. Knowing this will help you narrow your research once you get to the Surrogate’s Court.

Whether the Surrogate’s Court will allow you to view their confidential files would depend on your standing in the case. If you are a potential distributee, beneficiary, or heir, you have the right to view the estate records. Should you be out-of-state and need assistance in how to find a will in public records, you should contact an attorney in the county where the decedent resided.