As estate planning lawyers, we come across so many questions from clients. One of the most common questions we get is, “where can I find a copy of the will or all the records concerned with the case?”
The good thing is that probate is a public process, which means that the records are available to access and read. For instance, if the representative has submitted a will, you can acquire a copy.
With contemporary technology, the capability to acquire info regarding the deceased is easy, and in many cases, free.
The more information you have regarding the case, the easier the process becomes!
While it might not be possible to access authentic copies of the records relating to a probate hearing, the minimum you can know is the different types of materials that have been presented to the probate court. You should also be able to identify the representative of the estate, the names of the presiding judge, and the lawyer that the representative is using.
If you can’t access pertinent information regarding the case, you can request for information from the office of the court clerk, or the representative.
Locate the Proper Probate Court
If you have been named in the estate plan either as a fiduciary or a beneficiary, you need to stay updated on the information about the case.
The first step is to know where the estate is to be probated. Depending on New York law, the estate probate happens in the county of residency of the person till his death. In other cases, the estate can be probated where the person had real estate.
Locate the Records
After you are sure of the county of probate, the next step is to find the probate court. In the case of New York, it is aptly named the “surrogate’s court.” Searching for “probate” might not give you the right information.
You might not get the records at the first try, but when you are persistent, you will get what you are looking for. Additionally, the database is enormous, so you need to be patient to get what you need.
You must know what you are searching for. Here are a few tips that yield the results you are looking for:
- “(name of will-maker) + county surrogate records.”
- “(name of will-maker) + county surrogate court.”
- “(name of will-maker) + county surrogate dockets
- “(name of will-maker) + county court documents.”
After locating the county and understanding that the document you want exists, the next step is to get a copy of the info.
Steps to Get a Copy of the Document
- If you live in the county, you can visit the office of the clerk to request a copy of the documents. If you are outside the county, you can send an email or fax requesting the record.
- You might be required to pay a fee for the process. If you need only a few leaves of the document, you have to pay a fee per page.
- If you haven’t requested personally, you need to provide a self-addressed envelope for the office to mail copies to you.
This is the assumed process, but what if you don’t get the records online, what next?
What If You Can’t Locate Probate Records via an Online Search?
If you try to search for the records and you aren’t lucky, you have a few other options to explore:
- Visit the court personally and ask for help in tracing the documents. When you request, the court clerk looks up the info and advises you what is available and directs you on the process of asking the info.
- Call the probate court and ask for the process of getting these documents. While you might get help, some court clerks aren’t ready to help.
- Call a probate lawyer in the area where the probate court is supposed to handle the process and ask them if they can assist you in obtaining copies from the court. If you live in another county, this will save time and expenses.
If you don’t find information after all these attempts, then it is highly likely that the data isn’t available.
Information is ideal when handling the probate process. Take time to search for and access relevant documents to help with the process.