A will is a document that describes how a person wants their assets distributed at death. A will is different from a trust, because a will must go through a process known as probate. Probate occurs after the testator (person whose estate will be distributed) dies.  During probate the executor of the will lets the court know the will is valid and notifies heirs of what they are entitled to under the will. The court supervises the probate of the will to ensure no undue influence, foul play,or mistakes occur.

Can the Will be Viewed During Probate?

Yes a probated will becomes public record that can be viewed by anyone.  This public record remains public forever and it can be viewed by anyone. However, a probated will is generally viewed by someone who believes they were unjustly denied their benefits in a will. If someone believes their benefits were denied they can contest the will within the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for contesting a will varies state by state, but typically the time period will be one to two years from the death of the testator.

Can Someone View my Will Prior to my Death?

You can choose to let a beneficiary see your will, but nobody has a right to see your will prior to your death.

The Will I Was Shown Earlier is Different Than the Probated Will – Does This Invalidate the Probated Will?

Not necessarily. Prior to the testator’s death they can choose to change the terms or beneficiaries in their will for any reason. It is the testator’s property to do what they want with, but if the change was the result of undue influence or foul play it is possible to successfully contest the will. However, the mere change between the will you saw prior to the testator’s death and the probated will has no legal effect.

Do I Need a Lawyer to View a Probated Will?

A real probate lawyer will know local court rules and how to view the probated will. Furthermore, they may be able to tell you whether a will contest would be appropriate under your specific circumstances.