Q: My uncle died, and I think he had a will, but I’m not sure. How can I find out?
A: Dear Wondering:
When someone dies, it’s fairly easy to find out if he or she left a will. Upon death, most states require the person in possession of the deceased’s will to file it with the local probate court. Once the will is filed, its contents are public record and open to anyone who wants to view them.
If your uncle had a will and you’re named in it, the will’s executor (person charged with overseeing the distribution of its assets) should contact you within a couple months following his death. If you haven’t been notified, contact the probate court in the county where your uncle lived to access the will (if one exists) by giving them his name and date of death.
If your uncle created a living trust to distribute his estate, however, those documents are not public and won’t go through probate. If you’re named in the trust, your uncle’s trustee (similar to an executor) is required to contact you and follow the instructions your uncle laid out in regards to your inheritance.
Unlike wills, trusts are designed to keep the estate’s contents private and out of court.
A Personal Family Lawyer®, can help you determine if your uncle had a will or other estate planning documents. We can also help you create your own estate plan—and keep its contents as private—or public—as you want.