Understanding Probate: Is my will a public document?
Is my will a public document? The answer to this question is “yes” and “no”. For guidance we will look to MCL 700.2515: Deposit of will with court in testator’s lifetime.
First, one is not required to deposit a will with a court. One might keep their will in a safe deposit box, with an attorney, with a trusted confidant, or in their safe at home. The will can be used to start a probate proceeding at any time after death not otherwise restrained by operation of law or contract. It is important to note that a will not deposited is not a public document and is generally inaccessible to third parties without court intervention.
However, if one does deposit a will with the probate court, then “[t]he court shall receive and safely keep the will and give a certificate of the deposit of the will.” MCL 700.2515(1). Note, a will is not deposited in any court — it is deposited in the Probate Court in the county where you reside.
Now in relation to privacy protections of the will, the statute is self-explanatory in regard to how the will functions as a public document:
MCL 700.2515(2): “During the lifetime of the testator, the will shall be delivered only to the testator, or to some person authorized by the testator in writing that is duly proved by the oath of a subscribing witness. After the death of the testator and at the first session of the court after the court receives notice of the testator’s death, the will shall be publicly opened and retained by the court.”
MCL 700.2515(3): “After the death of the testator, if jurisdiction of the will for probate belongs to a court in another county, upon request of the personal representative named in the will or another person interested in its provisions, the will shall be forwarded by registered mail to the other court or delivered to the personal representative, or to some other person interested in the provisions of the will, to be presented for probate in the other court.”