Probate Documents

Probate documents in the UK are legal documents that pertain to the administration of a deceased person’s estate. When someone passes away, their assets and possessions need to be distributed according to their will or according to the rules of intestacy if there is no will. Probate is the legal process of proving and executing a will, or administering the estate if there is no will.

Probate Documents Wills are frequently a good source for family history information. They often provide the names and relationships to members of the family, the details of the property the deceased owned, and to whom this was bequeathed. Until after the First World War, most people had little property so did not bother making a will. Wills were generally made by the rich and by professionals, and also by many people who were not wealthy, such as shopkeepers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, and farmers, and sometimes by labourers. Copies of most wills made in England Wales can be obtained from the Principal Registry of the Family Division (PRFD) at First Avenue House, London.


The history of probate records in the UK dates back many centuries, evolving over time to meet the changing needs of society and the legal system. Here’s an overview:

  1. Early History: The origins of probate records can be traced back to medieval England. In the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical courts had jurisdiction over matters of probate and testamentary matters. These courts were administered by the Church and were responsible for proving wills and administering the estates of deceased individuals.
  2. Introducing Formal Probate Processes: The formalisation of probate processes began to take shape during the Tudor period (late 15th to early 17th centuries). Statutes such as the Probate Act of 1540 and the Wills Act of 1540 established procedures for proving wills and granting administration of estates. These laws helped standardise the probate process and laid the groundwork for the development of probate records as we know them today.
  3. Establishment of Probate Registries: The establishment of Probate Registries, which are responsible for overseeing the probate process and issuing grants of probate or letters of administration, began in the 19th century. The Probate Registry system was gradually expanded across the country, providing a centralised authority for handling probate matters.
  4. Introduction of Centralised Probate Records: In 1858, the Probate Act of 1857 established a centralised system for probate administration in England and Wales. This Act transferred jurisdiction over probate matters from the ecclesiastical courts to a new civil court called the Principal Probate Registry, which was under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Justice. This centralisation helped streamline the probate process and made probate records more accessible.
  5. Digitisation and Modernisation: In more recent years, there has been a significant push towards digitising probate records and making them available online. This has made it easier for individuals to access probate records for genealogical research, legal purposes, and other reasons. Additionally, changes in legislation and advancements in technology have led to improvements in the efficiency and transparency of the probate process.

Overall, the history of probate records in the UK reflects a gradual evolution from informal ecclesiastical practices to a formalised legal system administered by specialised courts and registries. While the basic principles of probate administration have remained consistent over time, changes in legislation and technology have led to significant advancements in how probate records are created, stored, and accessed.

Here are some key points about probate documents in the UK of today:

  1. Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration: This is the official document issued by the Probate Registry that confirms the executor’s authority to administer the deceased person’s estate. If there is a will, the executor applies for a Grant of Probate. If there is no will, a close relative typically applies for Letters of Administration.
  2. Probate Registry: The Probate Registry is the court responsible for issuing Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration. There are several regional Probate Registries across the UK.
  3. Probate Process: The probate process involves gathering information about the deceased person’s assets and liabilities, valuing the estate, paying any outstanding debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries.
  4. Probate Documents: The main probate documents include the deceased person’s will (if there is one), the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, an inventory of the deceased person’s assets and liabilities, and any other relevant supporting documents.
  5. Inheritance Tax: Inheritance Tax may be payable on the deceased person’s estate if its value exceeds certain thresholds. The executor is responsible for calculating and paying any Inheritance Tax due.
  6. Executor’s Duties: The executor of the will (or administrator if there is no will) has a legal duty to administer the estate in accordance with the law and the wishes of the deceased person. This includes distributing assets to beneficiaries, settling debts and taxes, and fulfilling any other obligations.
  7. Public Record: Probate documents are generally a matter of public record and can be accessed by anyone who wishes to obtain information about a deceased person’s estate.


Overall, probate documents play a crucial role in the legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate in the UK, ensuring that their assets are distributed correctly and in accordance with their wishes or the law; also a really vital record to help with your family history research.

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