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B. Probate

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  • 2nd Circuit

    The Second Circuit has not issued a definitive ruling regarding the publication of probate court materials. This will vary by jurisdiction.

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  • 5th Circuit

    Nothing found specific to the Fifth Circuit.

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  • Alabama

    Under Alabama law, records of the office of the probate judge are “public writings” under Ala. Code § 36-12-40, and as such, are “free for examination by all persons, whether interested in the same or not.” Holland v. Eads, 614 So. 2d 1012, 1015 (Ala. 1993) (citing Kernells v. Ezell, 282 So. 2d 266, 268 (Ala. 1973)).

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  • Arizona

    Matters in probate court are subject to the same access provisions as other courts under the Arizona Public Records law.  See generally Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. v. Ellis, 215 Ariz. 268, 274, 159 P.3d 578, 584 (App. 2007) (finding that probate court had erred in denying media access to notice of claim in matter involving a conservatorship).

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  • Arkansas

    Administrative Order No. 6 states that probate matters in circuit court shall not be subject to broadcasting, recording, or photographing. Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order No. 6(c)(3).

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  • Georgia

    All Georgia probate court records are public unless public access is limited by law or the procedure set forth in Uniform Probate Court Rule 4. Rule 4 requires a motion and provides that an order limiting access shall not be granted except upon a finding that the harm otherwise resulting to the privacy of a person in interest clearly outweighs the public interest. Further, any order of limitation entered by the court must specify the part of the file to which access is limited, the nature, and duration of the limitation, and the reason for limitation. See In Re: Motion of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, 271 Ga. 436, 438 (1999) (“In an order sealing a court record, a trial court must set forth factual findings that explain how a privacy invasion that may be suffered by a party or parties seeking to seal a record differs from the type of privacy invasion that is suffered by all parties in civil suits. Otherwise, the trial court is not justified in closing the record from public scrutiny.”); see also Sharpton v. Hall, 296 Ga. App. 251 (2009) (holding that the probate court did not abuse its discretion in unsealing records of guardianship and allowing estate administrator access to them).

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  • Idaho

    Probate matters are handled under the Uniform Probate Code, Idaho Code § 15-1-101 et seq.  No cases, rules, or statutes on point.

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  • Kansas

    The Kansas Probate Code, K.S.A. 59-101, et. seq., specifies that proceedings and records are open to the public.  K.S.A. 59-212(a)(1) provides that courts shall keep appearance dockets “under the name of the decedent, ward, conservatee, mentally ill person, or other person involved, all documents pertaining thereto and in the order filed.”  Under K.S.A. 59-214, court records of probate proceedings are “open to inspection by all persons at all times.”  However, for proceedings involving adoption and the care and treatment of mentally ill persons, courts must maintain “separate appearance dockets, not open to public inspection.”  K.S.A. 59-212(a)(1).

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  • Maine

    Under Probate Rule 92.10(b), “Members of the general public and Registered Filers not affiliated with a matter shall have remote access to all Public Records in any matter, subject to the redaction of Private Information on Public Records pursuant to Rule 92.12.” (emphasis added).  The Advisory Committee explained:

    Everyone, including members of the general public and Registered Filers not affiliated with a matter, will have remote access to all the Public Records, subject to the redaction of Social Security numbers of living individuals and banking/brokerage account numbers on Public Records as outlined in Private Information in Rule 92.12.

    M.R.Prob.P. 92.12 advisory committee’s notes to 2011 amend., Nov. 2011 (emphasis added).

    The Rules identify a few categories of non-public records and information.  Rule 92.12(a) lists four types of “Private Records.” “‘Private Records’ means (1) all records and documents (electronic or nonelectronic) relating to an adoption proceeding; (2) Certificates of Value (Probate Form DE-401A); (3) Physicians’ and Psychologists’ Reports (Probate Form PP-505); and (4) any record or document designated as a Private Record by the Probate Court.”  M.R.Prob.P. 92.12(a).  The Probate Rules also make confidential a few categories of information, labeled “Private Information,” (1) Social Security numbers of living individuals; (2) banking/brokerage account numbers; and (3) any other information designated as Private Information by the Probate Court.  M.R.Prob.P. 92.12(c).  The burden of redacting this information from court filings falls on those responsible for making filings with the Court.

    The registers of probate must maintain a docket of all probate cases and to make that information public.  “Registers of probate shall keep a docket of all probate cases and, under the appropriate heading of each case, make entries of each motion, order, decree and proceeding so that at all times the docket shows the exact condition of each case.”  18-A M.R.S. § 1-503.  The register is also empowered to audit accounts filed with the court when requested by a probate judge.  “Any register may act as an auditor of accounts when requested to do so by the judge . . . .”  Id.  All of these records are public.  “The register shall maintain records and files and provides copies of documents . . . .”  18-A M.R.S. § 1-305.  The register of probate is charged with making copies of “records of the court” and charging a fee for doing so.  18-A M.R.S. § 1-602(3).  The statute allows any member of the public to request copies.

    Exceptions to this rule of public access include records of adoptions decreed on or after August 8, 1953, are generally confidential.  18-A M.R.S. § 9-310.  Further, [t]he Probate Court shall keep records of those adoptions segregated from all other court records.”  Id.  This segregation is necessary because other probate court records are public.  Information obtained as part of a background check on prospective adoptive parents is also generally confidential.  18-A M.R.S. § 9-304(a-1)(vi).  The court may seal the name of the petitioner and the adoptee in a decree containing the new name of the adoptee “[i]f the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child. . . .”  18-A M.R.S. § 9-308(c).

    Certain wills filed with the court for safekeeping are also designated as confidential.  18-A M.R.S. § 2-901.  A will deposited with the court in the office of the register of probate before September 19, 1997, “may be delivered only to the testator or to a person authorized in writing signed by the testator to receive the will.”  Id.  Further, “[a] conservator may be allowed to examine a deposited will of a protected testator under procedures designed to maintain the confidential character of the document to the extent possible and to ensure that it will be resealed and left on deposit after the examination.”  Id.

    The probate court may also seal records of proceedings related to petitions for a name change.  18-A M.R.S. § 1-701.  The court may only do so to protect the personal safety of the person petitioning for a name change.  Id. at 1-701(b), (c).  “[T]he judge may seal the records of the name change” where the judge has found by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the person is a victim of abuse; and (2) the person is currently in reasonable fear of the person’s safety.  Id.

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  • Nevada

    Probate cases follow the general civil rules, discussed in “Access to civil proceedings” above.

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  • New Mexico

    Each of New Mexico's 33 counties has a Probate Court, with one judge sitting in each court. The probate clerks of the different counties are required to keep a record book for the sole purpose of keeping an exact account, showing all the money received and specifying the object for which it was received. The same book contains a list of all warrants issued against the county treasury, and for what purpose. NMSA 1978, § 34-7-17. Within the book resides a copy of the accounts for the current year, which is open to the inspection of any citizen who may wish to examine it. NMSA 1978, § 34-7-18. Finally, the New Mexico probate courts are deemed to be always open and a complete record of its proceedings shall be kept as in other cases. See NMSA 1978, § 63-2-3.

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  • Pennsylvania

    Wills in probate are publicly accessible. Probate proceedings and records are subject to the same rights, laws, and rules regulating access as other civil proceedings and records.

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  • Wisconsin

    Wis. Stat. chapter 879 on Probate contains no specific provisions on open courtrooms. Hence, probate proceedings are subject to the general openness mandated by Wis. Stat. § 757.14 and case law interpreting it.

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