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By: Scott Grossman on September 15th, 2016

San Diego Probate Court Records Typically Cannot Be Kept Secret

For many people new to the world of probate administration in San Diego, it may come as a surprise that the probate court files are generally viewable by the public. These files may contain highly personal and sensitive information, such as information about the extent and nature of the estate’s assets, who was appointed guardian of minor children, and who was to receive the decedent’s property. If you are not comfortable with this information being available to the public, you could attempt to have the file sealed by the court. Generally, however, this request will be denied.

The following is a helpful overview regarding the sealing of San Diego probate court files:

  1. The probate court records will be presumed to be open to the public unless the law requires confidentiality.
  2. In order for the court to grant permission for a probate record to be filed under seal, you need a reason. You must demonstrate an “overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the record.”
  3. All interested parties involved with the probate administration may be in agreement that sealing the probate file is preferred. This is an insufficient reason for it to be sealed.
  4. In order to have a file sealed, it must be filed under seal and must follow a noticed motion.
  5. Once the file is sealed, interested parties and the court itself can all move to unseal a record.
  6. The court’s ability to temporarily restrict public access to the probate file is a limited power. This is only exercisable under exceptional circumstances and after demonstrating good cause.

One reason that an individual may want access to a public probate file is to review the terms of the will to determine if they are a beneficiary. For more information, see our article, “A Long-time California Friend I Took Care of Has Passed Away. How Do I Find Out If I Am a Beneficiary in His Will?” Or our other article on How to Get a Copy of a Will.