United States Probate Limitations

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Limitations of a will

When analyzing a will record, be aware of the following potential problems:

  • The spouse mentioned in the will may not be the mother of the children mentioned in the will
  • The will may omit a deceased child
  • The will may omit a child who already received their inheritance
  • Maiden names of female spouses are not usually mentioned
  • Children are not always listed in birth order
  • No every-name index for those listed in the will
  • May have a problem with punctuation--Mary Beth, one name or two?
  • Sometimes cannot determine the difference between married and middle names
  • Relationships may be misleading
    Uncle/aunt may be spouses
    Cousin may mean nephew/neice
    In early wills, son-in-law could mean step son or nephew could mean grandson
    Brother and sister may mean brother and sister in the gospel

Limitations of probate records

  • Not everyone left a will
  • Not all relatives are listed--usually only the wife and children
  • Date of death is usually not given
  • Indexes usually list testator, not heirs or beneficiaries
  • Information on the residence of relatives is rare