Are Probate Records Public?

Understanding the Process and Scope

Managing the passing of a loved one can be challenging, especially when dealing with the probate process. During this period, you may have questions about the accessibility of probate records, especially when issues of privacy are a concern. 

But are probate records public? In many cases, the answer is yes. This article aims to shed light on what probate records include and the process involved in managing the probate proceedings, particularly in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange County Courts.

What is Included?

Public probate records encompass various documents that provide insight into the administration of a deceased person’s estate. Probate records in California are generally considered public records. This means that the public has the right to view and copy most documents and records filed with the probate court.  

However, sometimes the Probate Records may contain confidential information, such as: 

  • Tax returns, bank account numbers, and some financial details;
  • Records that have been ordered “sealed” due to privacy concerns or legal reasons, making the records unavailable to the public. 

Probate records commonly include, among others, the following:

  • Petition: The initial document filed with the court to begin the probate process.
  • Will: The deceased’s last will and testament, detailing the distribution of assets and personal wishes.
  • Inventory: A comprehensive list of assets and properties owned by the deceased at the time of passing.
  • Letters of Administration: Legal documents granting authority to the appointed executor or administrator to manage the estate.
  • Final Accounting: A financial summary detailing all transactions related to the estate, including starting balances, receipts, disbursements, gains and losses, proposed distributions, and the debts owed and assets owned.

A will only becomes public after a probate case has been filed with the court. However, once they are considered public records, they are available for public access and scrutiny.  In rare cases, a probate judge can seal a record if there is a compelling reason to do so, but this seldom happens.

While probate records may be public, they are not necessarily available online.  To access those records, some counties require an in-person visit to the court and the likely payment of a fee should you want copies.

Why do wills become public records? Sometimes, the probate process inadvertently overlooks beneficiaries or creditors entitled to a portion of the estate. For this reason, wills need to be accessible so that anyone can view them in their entirety. Interested parties, including beneficiaries, creditors, and other stakeholders, can typically obtain copies of these records at the courthouse where the probate proceedings are taking place. 

But How Do You Access the Public Probate Records?

While probate records may be accessible by the public, each county may differ in their approach to access.  Some counties may have online systems providing remote access to options, while others may require an in-person visit to the county courthouse to view or request copies of the probate records. 

Regardless of the county, you should anticipate that there will be a fee to obtain copies of records and possibly for access to the records. 

If you are researching older probate records, you may find that some counties maintain a county archive apart from the courthouse where those records are kept.

Managing the Probate Process

Probate records play a vital role in the administration of a deceased person’s estate, providing transparency and accountability during the probate process. These records are generally considered public, granting interested parties access to essential documents, such as the will, inventory, and final accounting. 

Seeking the expertise of an attorney for Probate Court can be instrumental in navigating the legal complexities and ensuring that the estate’s affairs are handled with precision in accordance with the law, especially when managing the probate process in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside or other California County Courts.

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