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Sovereign Ancestry Lincolnshire - Wills image 1During the period 1383 to 1858 the task of 'proving' wills was dealt with by ecclesiastical courts in England.


This can be divided into four classes or tiers as follows:


(i) The Court of The Archbishop. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (P.C.C) was concerned with those of the South and actually located in London. The P.C.C was the superior court in England and Wales. The Prerogative Court of York (P.C.Y) dealt with the North.


(ii) The Court of The Bishop This court covered a whole diocese, known as the Consistory Court. Within this a Commissary Court covered a designated area.


(iii) Peculiar Courts (Peculiars) These basically covered anything from a single parish to a small group that were within a specially designated area. They were under the direct control of a particular cleric.


Sovereign Ancestry Lincolnshire - Wills image 2The basic rules which applied to the necessity and making of a will may be summarised as follows. If a man had goods, money, lands or chattels valued in excess of £5 held within one Archdeaconry alone then the will would be proved in the Court of the Archdeacon (iii). If he held assets in more than one Archdeaconry within the same diocese then it would be proved in the Courts of the Bishop (ii). Lastly, if he held assets in more than one diocese then it was proved in the Court of the Archbishop (i) and if held in both the North and South of the country then it was proved at the P.C.C. as it took precedence.


The above is a simple summary meant as a guide. As with all things to do with genealogy there are grey areas and exceptions to rules!


Guide to the Estate:

Real Estate: This refers to items such as dwellings, shops, farms and lands of all types. It also covers the rights attached to these lands such as grazing etc. which were either Copyhold or Freehold.


Personal Estate: This refers to the contents of dwellings, farm stock, tools, sundry stock in trade, money and secure debts, i.e. anything that was 'personal' to the deceased. Houses held leasehold were also included as a lease is of a temporary nature.


It should be borne in mind that a tax was due to the Bishop based on the value of the Personal Estate. Therefore, shewder individuals would seem to have very little in their estate!


Unlike today, wills were normally drawn up when the subject was ill and close to death. There are various reasons for this, the chief being that it really was not necessary until close to the end. It was also an expensive process as the majority of the population, until fairly recent times, was illiterate. Also the process of actually drawing up this personal document meant that it had to be publicly declared before witnesses, thereby exposing the persons assets and wishes to scrutiny.


The proving of Wills changed in 1858. Subsequently all wills had to be proved in the Civil Courts. For people in England and Wales this was the Principal Probate Registry in London or one of the District Probate Registries.


Fortunately there is a centralised index for these wills. We can also find details of wills relating to persons from Scotland and Ireland who held lands or property in England.


We can search for and obtain copies of wills, where they survive.


Further reading:

Grant of Representation

A grant of representation is a document issued by the Probate Court which enables the person(s) named in it to deal with the assets and belongings ['estate'] of the deceased. It allows assets to be liquidated & collected, property to be sold or transferred and debts to be paid. (Click here for more information)

Order of entitlement - Intestacy

If a beneficiary dies after the deceased, the entitlement is passed to the estate of the beneficiary. If a beneficiary died before the deceased, the entitlement is passed to the issue of the beneficiary. (Click here for more information)