You may want to know if a loved one’s estate has been settled after their death or perhaps you just found out that a family member passed away some time ago. If you are looking for information about the estate of a decedent, especially if you may be one of the heirs, you can often find out what you need by searching online. Probate court cases are a matter of public record, which means anyone can get access to them if they know where to look.
While you can get access to the information in person, it can save time if you can find what you need online. Here are the steps to take if you want to find probate records online.
Step 1 – Identify Location Where Probate was Filed
Your first step is to find out which county in the state has the public record. It will be in the county where probate was filed. This is most likely the county where the person died or where they were living at the time of their death if they passed away in another county. For instance, a person may have died in the hospital in one county but lived in a nearby county. You would start with the county they called home.
If you don’t know where they died or were living, you can search in any county where they had owned property or lived. The executor of the estate would have filed the will and a petition with the probate court in one of those counties.
Step 2 – Contact the County Probate Clerk
Once you know the county where probate was filed, you can look up the website for the probate court. Look for information about how to contact the county probate clerk. You might be able to read the record on the internet. However, another option, if they aren’t accessible online, is to contact the office of the clerk by phone or email.
The clerk will tell you if you can get the records faxed or mailed to you. Otherwise, you will need to go to the courthouse in person to get the information contained in them. You can get the case number from the clerk for reference. Since the probate court records are public, you should be able to get access to them. Sometimes, a judge can seal the records if requested, which means you won’t be allowed to view them.
Step 3 – Search the Internet
Once you know the county where probate was filed, you can do a search for the estate. You would go to the county government’s website and search by name of the deceased. You may also be able to search by the court docket or attorney. You can also use the case number to search probate cases if you have it.
Once you find the case record, you can look up the details. Be aware that some counties don’t include the documents in the online file. It may be a summary of the case or have limited information.
Step 4 – Collect the Probate Records
If you are able to view the case online, you can print off the records. If you must go to the courthouse in person, you can ask the clerk to let you review the case or specific documents from the record. You may need to review the file in the office before you know which documents were included or what you will need.
Be aware that a fee may accompany your request to research the records. However, they will have to allow you to see the record unless it has been sealed by the court.
Step 5 – Create Copies for the Court
You will want to make copies of any documents that are relevant to your search. If you are able to view the record online, you can print off the number of copies you need. If you must view the record in person, you will need to ask the clerk to make copies for you. They may charge a copying fee for each page. If you request a certified copy of the records by mail or fax, you may need to pay for the copies and send a self-addressed stamped envelope.
What to Do If You Cannot Locate the Records Online
If you cannot find the records by searching online or if you can’t figure out how to conduct your search, you can go to the courthouse in person and ask for help. The clerk will look up the information on the estate and let you know if probate has been opened. Once they find this information, they can let you see the case file and make copies of anything you need.
Contact the Probate Court
You can also call the court and ask the clerk to make copies of probate records. Some clerks will help you with this task, so you don’t have to come in. This can be very important if you live in another state.
Another option for anyone who lives out of state and can’t find the information they need is to contact an estate planning attorney. The attorney can get copies of documents for the estate in probate. While you will have to pay a fee for using their service, it may not be as costly as if you travel to the area and do the work yourself.
You May Need an Estate Planning Attorney
If you still cannot find an estate in probate after doing all these steps, it is possible that the estate was never opened. If this is the case and you know it should have been opened, you will want to contact an estate planning attorney who can review your case, give you more information, and provide legal counsel on your next steps.
Finding an estate that has been probated may not be easy. The older the record, the more difficult it can be. Older files may even be archived, which will add to the complication of getting access to the information. More recent probate court cases will usually be easier to locate. The important thing to remember is that you have different resources you can use to help you find what you need including an attorney. Start your search online to save time and money and help you get documents that are relevant for your purposes.