A common question that I'm asked as an estate planning attorney is how to obtain a copy of a deceased person's last will and testament or other probate court filings. Because probate records are public court records that anyone can read, if a will has been filed for probate then you should be able to obtain a copy of it. And with modern technology comes the ability to locate information about a deceased person's estate online, and in most cases for absolutely free. But while you may not be able to view copies of the actual will and other documents that have been filed with the probate court for free (many courts have started charging for the ability to view documents), at the very least you will be able to see a list of the documents that have been filed, who has been named as the executor of the estate, which attorney the executor has hired, and the name of the judge presiding over the case. Some courts even list the names of all of the beneficiaries of the estate. This will then give you the ability to request copies of the will and any other documents you are interested in viewing from the probate clerk's office, or you can try contacting the executor or the executor's attorney for additional information.
How to Find Out Where a Probate Estate Has Been Filed
One side note - how do you determine the appropriate probate court where an estate is being, or has been, probated? An estate is probated in the county where the deceased person lived at the time of his or her death, or, in some cases, the county where the deceased person owned real estate. Use the following website to locate the correct name of the county by plugging in the name of the city where the deceased person lived or owned real estate: City - County Search.
How to Request Copies of Probate Court Documents
Once you have located the appropriate county, an online search can be done for that county's probate court or probate court dockets. This can be tricky because in some states the probate court is not actually called the probate court, it could be referred to as the "circuit court," "surrogate's court," "orphan's court," or any other number of courts. But be persistent - since probate occurs in each and every county across the country, chances are you will be able to locate the appropriate court's online information.
Once you have located the appropriate county, usually the steps involved in obtaining a copy of a will or other probate document directly from the probate court will include the following:
- Appearing in person and asking for a copy of the will or other probate document, or making a written request by fax or mail if applying in person is not feasible.
- Paying a copying fee for the number of pages that the will or other probate document contains. These fees usually range from $1.00 to a few dollars per page.
- Providing a self-addressed, stamped envelope for mailing the copies if the request is not made in person.
How to Request Copies of Probate Documents for Estates Probated in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, Florida
If the estate you are interested in is being probated in the Broward County Circuit Court located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, then unfortunately you cannot access Broward County probate dockets online for free. Instead, you will need to establish a fee-based account to view the probate dockets (or any other court docket for that matter). However, you will be able to view limited information about a probate estate being administered in Broward County by following the links and instructions provided below.
- Click on the following link for the website for the Broward County, Florida Clerk's website: Howard C. Forman Clerk of the Courts.
- Click on Public Search on the left side of the page toward the bottom.
- Click on Civil, Family & Probate Case Records.
- Enter the decedent's name as indicated and then click on "Submit."
- Once you locate the link to your probate case, click on the case number. The following information will be listed: court location, judge, decedent's name and date of death, petitioner's name, petitioner's attorney, and resident agent.
NOTE: If you follow the instructions above but nothing happens, either the website is being updated, in which case try back at another time, or your internet browser does not like the About.com interface at the top of the page, in which case once you land on the main search page, at the top of the page click on the words "Turn off this Top Frame" and then follow the remaining instructions.
You can request to view an entire probate file in person by filing out a "Request for Court Documents/View File(s)" form available on the Broward clerk's website: Standard Request.
If you are not able to appear in person to view the file, then contact the probate department of the Broward County clerk's office at (954) 831-7154 in order to determine the process for obtaining copies.Other cities located in Broward County include Coconut Creek, Cooper City, Coral Springs, Dania Beach, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Hallandale Beach, Hillsboro Beach, Hollywood, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Lauderhill, Lighthouse Point, Margate, Miramar, Plantation, Pompano Beach, Port Everglades, Southwest Ranches, Sunrise, Tamarac, and Weston. If the decedent lived in one of these cities or owned real estate located in one of these cities, then contact the Broward County clerk's office as indicated above.
Information About the Estate of Anna Nicole Smith, a/k/a Vickie Lynn Marshall
If you are looking to view a copy of the last will and testament of Anna Nicole Smith (a/k/a Vickie Lynn Marshall, Vickie Lynn Smith and Vickie Lynn Hogan), which was filed in Broward County shortly after her death at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino located in Hollywood, Florida, then refer to What Does Anna Nicole Smith's Will Say?