Answers to Common Questions and Situations

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How to Get a Copy of a Will after Death? Can a Family Member Request It?

When a loved one dies, dealing with the pain is only part of the events that follow. You may need to sort the papers, notify the deceased family members about the late person passing away, attend the funeral of the deceased, pay various expenses related to the decedent’s medical care, and so on. One way or another, you may end up wondering if the deceased person left a will and clearly established how their inheritance will be distributed and, if so, how you can get a a copy of the will.

What happens if the original copy of a will is lost? Who has the legal right to obtain a copy? How to get a copy of a will after death and the associated costs are just some of the questions our probate attorneys receive almost every day.

Let’s find out!

Who Keeps the Original Copy of a Will?

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First, you should know that there can only be one original will, and it’s not possible to have several “originals” signed and stored in different locations.

While the testator (the person who made the will) wants to make sure the estate will be distributed according to their wishes, they will want to keep it safe or by the people who they trust. There are some places where to store the original copy of their will:

The nominated estate executor

Leaving their will to the person responsible for settling their estate can help streamline the probate process. The executor should keep the documents in a waterproof, fireproof, and locked storage container.

The estate planning attorney

Typically, the attorney who helped your loved one draft their last will and testament might agree to store it. This way, the decedent may also be sure his testament is confidential until the date of his death.

The county clerk’s office

Many of Georgia’s county clerk’s offices will keep someone’s will on file for a nominal storage fee. This can also help streamline the probate process because the probate court already has the will on file.

The deceased person himself

Your loved ones may decide to keep the will for themselves, and this is a convenient option. If this happens, they may want to keep the document at home, in a safe place. In this case, the best option would be a container that is waterproof and fireproof and can’t be easily moved.

Another option is to keep the testament and other estate plans in a safe deposit box at the bank. This way, they are sure the documents will only be read after they pass away.

In both cases, the decedent should grant someone (usually the executor) the authority to access the documents after their death.

Are Copies of Wills Valid?

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The original testament is typically required for the probate process. In general, a copy of a will is not as good as the original when proving the document’s validity.

Under Georgia law, when an original will cannot be found, the law presumes that the deceased intended to revoke the document, and the rules of intestacy will dictate the estate distribution.

However, if you find out how to get a copy of a will, there are ways to overcome the presumption of revocation and in some circumstances, the probate court can accept a copy of the will.

This usually involves providing evidence to show that the copy is a true and accurate representation of the original testament, but it is not always easy.

When filing a copy of a will, you must give the court an affidavit from at least one of the witnesses who signed the will.

In Georgia, a testament must be witnessed by at least two persons. Often, their address and telephone number appear on the will under their signature.

If you cannot locate the witnesses after a thorough search, you can still ask the court to accept the copy based on your good faith efforts to find them and file for a probate case.

Any people who may be adversely affected by the probate with a copy of the will must be notified. Alternatively, their consent to make the application may be provided.

Proving a copy of a will is a complex undertaking, and we strongly recommend speaking with a qualified probate attorney.

How to Get a Copy of a Will After Death in Georgia?

After someone dies, it’s very common for the deceased family to want to read the will to see what the decedent’s wishes are and if the executor follows the testament. However, there are two ways to get a copy of a will:

Ask the estate executor

If you are an heir or a beneficiary in the will, you can ask the estate executor for a copy of the document. If the person who has the will refuses to provide a copy to heirs or chosen beneficiaries, please contact our office to discuss your situation and potential options.

From the probate records

Once the will has been filed with the probate court of the county the deceased resided in, the court will open the testament, and it becomes a public record. During the probate process, any interested party, including heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors, may see the will.

How Much Does a Certified Copy of a Will Cost?

Getting a copy of a will is possible by paying a fee. Typically, the cost varies from state to state, but it usually depends strongly on the number of pages included in the testament.

What Happens If the Original Copy of a Will Is Lost?

As mentioned before, when the original copy of a will cannot be found, the law presumes that the deceased intended to revoke the document. In this situation, it is considered that the person died intestate, and the distribution of the inheritance will be made under the rules of Georgia intestacy law.

Alternatively, you may try to find out how to find a copy of the document in a physical place and or how to get a copy of a will online and follow the process of proving it.

Who Can Ask For a Copy of the Will When Someone Dies?

Who has access to the will after a person passes away, depends on whether the will has been submitted to probate yet.

The estate executor (and the coexecutors, if necessary) – they are the personal representatives chosen by the testator. They are responsible for handling all fiduciary responsibilities of the estate.

The beneficiaries mentioned in the will – the will should how the decedent inheritance will be distributed and what share receives each of them. Therefore, any beneficiary of a will is entitled to ask for a copy of the testament.

The estate accountant: A copy of the will must be provided to determine debts, estate income, principal, estate taxes, income taxes, and/or death taxes.

Heirs-at-law and or prior beneficiaries – who are not listed in the will but may feel that they are entitled to a part of the estate. A copy may be given to the heirs at law for challenges to the validity of the will.

Successor trustee – In a Pour-Over will, the trustee of the monetary funds has the right to receive a copy of the will to determine how the funds should be paid out.

Federal and State Taxing Authority – if the estate is taxable, then a copy must be submitted with a copy of the estate tax return.

After the estate has been opened, the will becomes a public record, and any other interested party has the possibility of requesting a copy.

Can a Family Member Request a Copy of a Will?

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Yes, because the will must be filed with the appropriate probate court.

However, the personal representative must provide a copy of the testament only to those entitled by law to receive it, like for example, the guardian of the minor children who are beneficiaries nominated in the will.

Bottom Line

A last will and testament is fundamental for a person’s estate plan. It lays out the deceased’s final wishes about their assets and provides clear instructions for the distribution of their possessions.

This way, the testator wants to protect their loved ones from a long and stressful probate process.

However, there are also situations when the original document cannot be found, and trying to locate it while grieving someone’s loss can be a difficult task to undertake on your own.

If you find yourself in the situation of dealing with the death of a loved one who you know left a testament, but you don’t find a copy of the will, feel free to contact our office at (770) 790-4362 and have a consultation with one of our team members.


Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our probate attorneys provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.

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About the author

Erik J. Broel
Founder & ceo

Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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