Reference Centre, Genealogy 101
Answers to Genealogy FAQs - Wills in England and Wales after 1858
The proving of all Wills throughout England and Wales, as of 1 January 1858, was moved into the bailiwick of the Principal Probate Registry. Your 1908 Will, for copying purposes, therefore, will be found at the Probate Registry office at York House, 31 York Place, Leeds, Yorkshire, telephone 0113 3896 133.
Application must be made to that office with payment of £10.00 for a copy of the Will. You will also have to include the date of death of the individual, last place of residence and possibly - if it is a common name - the name of the spouse or likely Executor.
There is a PDF postal-search request form at this link:
Application for a search. Download and complete the form with the requisite details and mail to:
The Postal Searches and Copies Department,
District Probate Registry,
31 York Place,
If you live in England - London - you can view the entire index to Wills and Administrations at:
London Probate Department,
Principal Registry of the Family Division,
First Avenue House,
42-49 High Holborn,
Telephone 020 7947 6939.
Click here for the web site of the Court Service.
If you live elsewhere in Great Britain you can attend at the District Probate Registry for the area in which your ancestor lived and/or died, to view the index for that jurisdiction. Addresses for the District Probate Registry offices can also be found on the above website by clicking here.
If you live elsewhere, particularly North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, or in Britain but are unable to travel too far, you have several options that will eventually net you the sought-after Will, the first of which is the most expediant and least costly:
1. The Principal Probate Registry index is now available online for free searching at Gov.uk. Click the "Start Now" button to advance through to the search page. The website permits three different searches:
1996 to present
Surname and Year of Death fields on each of the three search options must be completed in order for the search function to work. If you do not know the year of death proceed to item #2, immediately below, and then return here. The search result will return an image from the Principal Probate Registry Index from which you can copy the details of the grant. Searching for surname Ruck in 1880 produced a two-page result, on the second of which pages was found the following entry:
1880 [year found at the top of the page].
[in the left-hand column]RUCK George. #686 Personal Estate under £7,000.
[in the right-hand column] 17 August. The Will of George Ruck late of 33 Lower-Fant-road Maidstone in the County of Kent Architect and Surveyor who died 20 June 1880 at 33 Lower-Fant-road was proved at the Principal Registry by Caroline Ruck of 33 Lower-Fant-road Widow the Relict and Alfred Brothers of 14 St. Ann's-square Manchester in the County of Lancaster Photographer the Executors.
2. If the year of death is not known - locate the death registration from either FreeBMD or one of the pay-per-view services. This will be sufficient to conduct a search for a grant of probate or administration on the Gov.uk website. The exact date of death (which is required to complete the postal application form for a Will) can then be lifted directly from that grant. See the example directly above. Note that the date of the grant appears first in the entry followed by the date of death after the name and address of the deceased. Once you have the date of death from the index you will be able to order a copy of the Will via PDF postal-search request form.
3. If you have limited access to a computer or have barriers to travel, you will want to maximize your computer access time, first, by searching for the death entry on the FreeBMD website and, second, by signing up with familysearch.org for a free online account. Once you have your free online account you will be able to access that account to order microfilms from any computer. You will also need to have a credit card on which you can charge the film order fee at the time of your order. Now, for the mechanics of obtaining Principal Probate Registry index and Will films from the Family History Library.
Locate a LDS Family History Centre close to where you live. You will need this address in order to complete your online film order. Order the index film, first. Calendar of the grants of probate and letters of administration made in the Principal Registry and in the several district registries of Her Majesty's Court of Probate begin on microfilm #0215221. The calendars are arranged by first few letters of surname and year. Some years and surnames are split over two films. So, be certain that you have identified the correct index film for your purposes. You will be notified by the Family History Centre when your film has arrived at which time you can schedule an appointment to attend at the centre to view the film.
Once you locate the calendar entry you are then able to order directly from the Family History Library the microfilm with the actual Will or Administration. This only applies to Wills proved before 1926, however as any Will or probate proved beyond that year will have to be obtained from the Principal Probate Registry at Leeds as noted close to the beginning of this answer. The Wills begin on microfilm #1836412.
Records are arranged by year and month. Within each month the men's Wills are arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the surname (i.e., all of the surnames beginning with 'M' are grouped together), then arranged by date. Women's Wills, also arranged by first letter of the surname, then by date, usually come after the men's Wills. If a month and a letter of the alphabet are split between two films, you will perhaps need to examine both films in order to find the applicable Will. Using the microfilm number from the catalogue, again, order the requisite microfilm online via your free account with Family Search and attend at the Family History Centre once the film arrives to view and copy the Will or Administration.