How to Read Probate Records

Probate records are those records that document the will and testaments of a deceased individual. These may need to be consulted in order to check the authenticity of inheritance and property ownership. After being documented, probate records are normally made public property so that they can be viewed easily. The article below will guide you through reading such probate records and will also explain the process of gaining access to the archives.

Tools Required

  • A working Internet connection
  • Writing material
  • Telephone
  • Transportation

Step 1 - Locating the Probate Records

The probate record of an individual is usually archived in the county or district he or she died in. In case the county name changed after the death of the concerned person, their file will still be classified under the name of the old county. Make sure that you have this in mind while researching so as to avoid any confusion. The Internet is a very useful tool in this regard; one that you should use regularly to search for electronic probate records, indexes and directions to clerk offices. Make sure that you have all the valid office addresses before starting on your search. Once the relevant offices have been located, searching the index comes next.

Step 2 - Searching the Index

Before a record can be requested for viewing, you will have to locate the deceased person’s name on an index. Records are compiled alphabetically according to surname in the index, which makes the searching process very easy. If the clerk’s office does not support an Internet database then you will have to travel to the office to search for the name in the index. On finding the desired name, a request has to be filed with the clerk’s office in order to view the record. Since this request takes a few days to process, using a telephone to file a request is advised.  In case of records documented after 1990, on the other hand, you will have to search microfilms to find the desired documents.

Step 3 - Handling the Records

Since most records are old and stored in specially designed environments, care is needed when handling them. You should be very gentle while going through these records to avoid damage to the paper. Wearing gloves will also help in this regard by inhibiting the contact of skin oil and paper. It is advised that you should first skim through a record to check its relevancy to your project and then get it photocopied for detailed reviews later. This will also help in preventing undue wear and tear on the documents.

Step 4 - Reading the Records

Most probate records contain a will - a document that contains any directions for the division of assets after the individual’s death; also including any other wishes and testimonies, and papers that depict changes to the will, if any. It will also contain complete details of the heirs and division of assets. In addition, documents that prove the authenticity of property will also be present. These papers will contain complete information regarding guardians that were appointed to underage heirs so as to provide a complete record of where and how an individual’s assets were divided. Make sure that you make notes of the required information, especially names, for consultation at a later date. Be thorough with each document that is attached as a supplement to prove the authenticity of property and skim through all probate records under the same family name to gain a wider perspective.

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