Probate is a court-supervised process that governs the distribution of the estate of someone who passed away. This complex process usually requires an extensive list of documents, many of which it is only possible to find on previous probate records.
In this article, you will find out whether probate records are public in Florida and how to access them.
Accessing Probate Records in Florida – A Brief Introduction
Probate records are court records created after an individual’s death pursuant to the distribution of that person’s estate. In Florida, this process always will take place whether the decedent has died with last will (testate) or without a last will (intestate).
Yet, why would someone need to access someone else’s probate records? Traditionally, probate records provide a valuable collection of various types of records for a wide array of reasons. For instance, genealogists and historians often must pour over probate records when performing in-depth research.
The documents often found in probate files include:
- Last will and testament(s)
- Inventories (including trade and household goods)
- Documents pursuant to the occupation and ownership of land
Additionally, probate records sometimes are the only known source of crucial information about someone’s life, such as:
- The decedent’s date of death
- The decedent’s spouse name
- The decedent’s former spouse(s) (if any)
- The decedent’s children names
- The identity of the decedent’s parents, siblings, in-laws, and other close relatives
- The decedent’s neighbors and associates
- The decedent’s places of residence
- Names of witnesses to any agreement(s) to which the decedent was involved
- The decedent’s religion
- Military service-related information
Who is Authorized to Access Probate Records in Florida?
Florida Statutes §28.223 (1) provide that “the clerk of the circuit shall record all wills and codicils admitted to probate,” as well as:
- Orders revoking the probate of any wills and codicils
- Letters of administration
- Orders affecting or describing real property
- Final orders, orders of final discharge
- Orders of guardianship filed in the clerk’s office
In Florida, most probate documents are public records. Nonetheless, certain documents such as probate inventories and accounts are strictly confidential. In such cases, the content may be viewed only by:
- A personal representative appointed by a probate court
- The personal’s representative attorney, or
- An authorized interested party (as defined by Florida law)
In Florida, state law prohibits clerks of probate courts from placing an image or a copy of a court file, record, or paper related to matters or cases subject to Florida Probate Rules on a website that is publicly available for anyone to access.
Specific information contained in all death and fetal death records is confidential and not open to public inspection, including:
- a deceased person’s cause of death
- the paternity of a deceased person in a fetal death case
- the marital status of a person involved in a fetal death case
- All medical information pursuant to fetal death cases
Plus, all death certificates in Florida must be recorded with the specified sections deleted.
Is An Attorney’s Guidance Necessary When Accessing Probate Records? – Immediately Contact Your Florida Probate Lawyer
In formal administration, Florida probate rules require the personal representative to hire legal representation from an attorney. Ideally, interested individuals involved in probate procedures should seek expert legal guidance regardless of a prior legal requirement.