I’ve talked before about the government’s online Find a Will service.
Well… Big News! The cost of using this service has been massively reduced. Instead of £10 per Will, the cost is now £1.50.
I don’t know about you, but that makes a huge difference to me. I’m normally very careful about buying Wills and BMD certificates, only buying when I know it will give me information that will help me to progress in some way. But at £1.50 per Will, I can justify buying ones that have merely piqued my curiosity. I don’t know if this reduced price will be permanent, but if you can, it makes sense to go through your ancestors and see if there’s a Will or two you need. I’ve ordered eight.
Why might you need a Will?
It’s not about being nosy and seeing how much money and property they left – although of course that information will tell you a lot about the kind of lifestyle your ancestor might have enjoyed. But in fact a Will can tell us a great deal about family networks. There might be a child you hadn’t known about, or perhaps a complicated family network following divorce or separation. There could be a share of the inheritance to a child who seemed to you to have fallen off the radar. Prior to the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act, fathers might have made arrangements for their daughters, to avoid all the inheritance falling into the hands of an unknown future husband. In other words, a Will might give us a lot of useful information.
Some tips on using the service
The online Find a Will service deals only with probate from 1858 to the present day. You have to search in one of three categories:
- Wills and Probate 1996 to present
- Wills and Probate 1858-1996
- Soldier’s Wills – these will usually only be on here if the person was killed in action. However, some of them have been lost.
Make sure you have the correct section highlighted before you enter your search terms.
Although the search field asks for year of death, the information is in fact arranged by year of Probate, i.e. the year the Probate documents were finalised. This could be the year after death, or in some cases several years after death. So remember to search the following year or two if you can’t find your ancestor in the year they actually died.
If you find your ancestor you’ll see a short statement of who he or she is, where they lived, when they died, when and where Probate was granted and the names of Executors. This will help you to identify the correct deceased person, and you will also need some of this information to be able to order the documents.
Bear in mind that the Executors are not necessarily the beneficiaries, so the people listed on this note are not the full story. For that, you do need to buy the Will and Probate documents. For example, I’ve just ordered the Will below. I expect William Cass, son, and William Wade, son-in-law, to inherit, but not Edwin Wade, who is the very able older brother of William Wade but not directly related to the deceased.
After you’ve entered the search terms, sometimes Irish and Scottish records come up before the English ones start. Sometimes, too, you might find your ancestor listed on a page headed ‘Administrations’ rather than ‘Probate’. This means your ancestor didn’t leave a Will: they died ‘intestate’. If your ancestor died intestate but still had property of value to pass on, the courts would appoint an administrator to deal with the estate. In other words, it would be dealt with via Administration rather than Probate. There will still be documents relating to the sharing out of the inheritance, but there won’t be a personal statement from the deceased relating to how they want their property to be shared.
Finally – you’ve found your ancestor, you’ve ordered your documents and you’ve paid your £1.50 per Will. What a bargain! So what next? You’ll receive a link by email within a week or two, which will take you to images of the original documents. You will have 31 days to download your copy of each will.
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