Is a Last Will and Testament a Public Record?
By Paige Webbstock, Staff Writer.
When you first make a will, it is a private legal document stating to the executor how the creator (or testator) wishes to distribute their assets after they die. In the interests of justice, however, a will enters into the public record when the will is executed after the testator’s death, so that interested parties may view it.
The Freedom of Information Act in the United States says all information held by the government (excluding matters of national security) must be a matter of public record, whether this be in part or in whole. Consequently, any documents that are held by courts and not declared to be an issue of national security are available for public viewing. In addition, copies of these may be made if you pay a certain fee. These documents include land and estate papers, like wills.
The probate court is a segment of government administration in the US that handles matters like estates, wills and guardianships. The role of this court is to ensure that the debts of the deceased are paid and that assets are passed onto the correct beneficiaries. Documents that are submitted to the probate court also become part of the public record. Additionally, wills registered with the court before the death of the testator are available on public record.
In order to declare a will valid in probate, it must have been written without any sort of undue influence and obviously, be non-fraudulent. If someone’s will was not on the public record, people left out of the will because of fraud or other factors would have a difficult time finding out about the contents of the will, hence, this would mean the administration of justice would suffer. Declaring will documents as public records is a matter of virtuous justice.
Therefore, when you are creating your will, you should consider the fact that in theory, anyone in the US can read what you have written. Keep it formal and avoid discussing things like family secrets or anything you wish not to be made public.