Generally, yes, probate is public. The application and other documents are filed with the county clerk and open for inspection by the public. In fact, most counties provide free online access to the county clerk’s records.
You can search the Harris County Probate records here, for example.
What Types of Records are Public
The records will include an application for probate. This document generally details the beneficiaries named in the will or, absent a will, the decedent’s family relationships.
Depending on the county, the death certificate may also be filed and publicly available.
The records may also include an inventory. The inventory will list all of the decedents assets and claims at the time of death. The probate attorney may recommend filing an Affidavit in Lieu of an Inventory when there is a need or desire to keep some of the asset and claim information private.
Also, if the probate lasts longer than one year, the personal representative may have to file an annual accounting with the court. This record is also public. It provides a detailed history of the income and expenses for the estate.
The county clerks will insist that social security numbers and other sensitive information be redacted from documents that are filed. This includes redacting all but the last three digits of the social security numbers, etc. The county clerks have gotten better about this over the years.
On request, the probate courts can also order records sealed or kept private if there is some other reason for keeping information private. This is not all that common, but it is a possibility.