People often confuse the terms beneficiary and heir. But in fact the terms are not mutually exclusive. Beneficiaries are the named parties in a will who will inherit assets from the estate. A heir is one who will inherit based on Florida laws of estate distribution and descent. The siblings, relatives, spouses and children of a deceased person are all people who could be considered heirs, and thus may have a right to inherit from a person. Such rules apply when the deceased did not have a will. However, if there is a will, a heir may or may not be a beneficiary to the will. The main difference between the two is that while a beneficiary has a legal right to view a last will and testament, a heir does not, unless the heir is also a beneficiary. However, there are ways around this rule that can allow a viewing of a will by a non-beneficiary heir to an estate.
It is the job of the estate attorney to determine who should either receive a copy of the will, or be allowed to view the will. Typically, before the probate process begins the attorney will send a copy of the will to the personal representative of the estate. The accountant for the estate may also need a copy of the will in order to conduct all of the accounting functions required under the will for estate assets. Once the personal representative has received the Letters of Administration (document granting authority to represent the estate) the personal representative must respond to all document requests by beneficiaries to the estate. A beneficiary has the right to request a copy of the will at any time during the probate process. The personal representative might also think it is a good idea to send copies of the will to heirs to the estate, even if they are not named beneficiaries in the will. This happens more often if the personal representative anticipates that a will contest may be raised.
Any person can access a will once it has been filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. The custodian to a will is required to deposit a copy of the will with the Clerk of the Circuit Court within 10 days after learning that the will creator has died. Once a will is entered into the probate records, any person can view the will. This is because upon entry into probate, the will is a public court record, and accessible to the public. Thus, if you are a heir and would like to view a will your best option may be to got to the probate court located in the county were the will was filed. This county should be where the deceased either lived at when he or she died, or a county where the deceased person owned real estate in. Check out this website to determine which county the city where the deceased person lived in is located. This will allow you to determine which probate court the will was filed in.
Currently, the Florida Supreme Court does not provide for the online viewing of imaged probate documents remotely. Thus, you will have to visit the Clerk of the Circuit Court office in person in order to view the will. However, the different county clerk locations provide public viewing terminals where you can view the will. There is also the option of ordering a copy through email or phone. However, this option is only available for probate documents that have not been sealed because of Florida law, or administrative court orders. Such copies will be mailed upon receipt of the requisite postage and service fee.
While a named beneficiary to a will has the right to view a will upon request, a heir of the deceased does not. However, a viewing can be conducted at the Clerk of the Circuit Court office where the will was filed. It might be a good idea to call this office ahead of time so that they can have the document waiting for you. Or you can request a copy of the will via email or phone.