Under U.S. law, wills become a matter of public record and are generally available to the public after the testator has died, according to Lee Carroll for LegalZoom. Before the testator dies, wills are considered private property and not legal documents.
After the testator passes away, it is normally required for his will to be filed in court to begin the probate process. During the process, the will is eventually recorded and can be viewed by any interested parties, notes Carroll.
A will that becomes part of the public record can normally be found at the court closest to the location of the testator at the time of passing. If the deceased had two homes, the county clerk's office near his official permanent residence is a good place to start, recommends Carroll. Depending on the complexity of the estate, the will may not be available to the public immediately after the testator passes.
If the value or assets of the estate are significant, a year or more may pass before the will is available for viewing. Another issue that can cause a delay in the filing of the will is if it becomes contested, explains Carroll. For example, an individual may believe a will was formed under undue influence or through fraud, which can delay the probate process if the will's validity is contested.