Who has the right to view a Will at the county office after someone dies?

Asked on November 7, 2011 under Estate Planning, New York


Sharon Siegel / Siegel & Siegel, P.C.

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Once a file is opened in the Surrogate's Court, anyone can look at the will.  Thus, if you are seeking to keep an asset or other part of your probate estate secret from family or creditors, there are other ways to go about transferring an asset.  If you are seeking to view another person's will, depending on the county where the person died, the will is in the probate file and open to the public. 



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M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The general rule is that once the testator (i.e. the maker of a Will dies) and the Will is admitted to the court for probate, then it becomes a matter of public record and anyone can obtain a copy of it for a nominal fee. Additionally, beneficiaries are entitled to see a copy of a Will upon the testator's passing. You should be aware, however, that certain assets can be transferred outside of probate. So for example, if the deceased had a small estate, property may have been transferred by affidavit or likewise. Additionally, some assets may have been held as "joint tenants with right of survivorship", in which case the other joint tenant(s) would have received the deceased share of property automatically. Furthermore, funds in an IRA, pension, 401(k), or other retirement plans or a trust also by-pass probate and go directly to the named beneficiaries. The same holds true for any proceeds paid out under a life insurance policy.

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