Category Archives: Your Probate Questions

We answer generic probate questions

Government’s New Wills Archive

More than 6 million searches of the government’s new archive of wills have been made in just 1 month.

Tens of thousands of people have gone online to buy copies of the wills of family members, famous names and historical figures by using the new digital service.

(Please don’t ring The Probate Department Ltd about this – we’re a private company, not a Government Department.  The link to search for a Will which has been probated is at the foot of the page.)

The archive contains more than 41 million wills held by the Probate Registry since 1858 when the documents became public records.

It includes the last wishes of leaders and high profile musicians and writers like John Lennon, JRR Tolkien and Freddie Mercury.

They also include wartime leader Winston Churchill, whose death was 50 years ago this week.

Since the launch on Saturday 27 December almost 25,000 wills have been bought, showing the strength of interest in the documents.

Justice Minister Lord Faulks said:

I am delighted so many people have taken advantage of our unique archive of wills and are looking into the histories of their families.

This is an incredible resource and I’m not surprised in the slightest that it has captured the public imagination so strongly.

Now we can all learn about the last wishes of our long lost great aunts from the comfort of our living room.

The innovative project has been carried out by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and storage and information management company Iron Mountain.

The project is a great example of how the government is opening up public services. It means requests can be dealt with quickly and without people needing to visit the Probate Registry to search archives in person.

The availability of the database of 41 million wills follows the first stage of opening up the archive when soldiers’ wills were made available in 2013. There have since been more than 2 million searches of that archive.

The latest phase in the programme means that people can now request a specific will online and receive an electronic copy within 10 working days.

Creating the wills archive is part of ongoing work to transform HMCTS to make it a modern, efficient, digital service which is easy for the public to access.

More than 150 cases have been filmed in the Court of Appeal since the government changed the law to allow court broadcasting in 2013 and £160 million is being invested in digital technology for courtrooms including video links, wi-fi and improved IT systems to end the system’s reliance on paper.

You can search for a will here.

Copy Wills Online Easier Quicker

Copy Wills Can Now Be Ordered Online.

We had an interesting issue with an executor the other day: one of the beneficiaries of a Will managed to get a copy Will online before the executor had the Grant of Probate.  He had intended to explain everything to the beneficiaries as soon as the Will had been confirmed by way of the grant, so it was a bit embarrassing for him!   So it you have a contentious case, it may not always be prudent to keep people in the dark!

How did this happen?  It is all part of the Governments drive to digitise everything.  Around 41 million wills has now been digitised for public access.  One suspects that new Wills are probably digitised as soon as probate is applied for – so be careful!

In general terms. this is brilliant for both clients and professionals as access is now much easier and generally far quicker – provided the Will has been digitised of course. There will be cost savings on professionals bills, and things should be a little quicker.

The initiative was led by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service in response to public demand for official documents to be more accessible. This was achieved in partnership with Iron Mountain, a specialist firm that provides digital data storage solutions.

Dating back to 1858, the wills featured are those registered within England and Wales, allowing consumers and probate professionals to get valuable historical information online.

The first stage of the project involved around 260,000 wills from military persons being added to a digital database. So far, this archive alone has received over 2 million search queries to date, having only being launched in 2013.

This now means, not only can probate clients easily find out more about their ancestors, but also uncover lost inheritance and assets left to their family over the years, as well as find the grant of representation for a family member’s estate.

Amongst the data also lies the dying wishes of well-known figures, including Sir Winston Churchill, Beatrix Potter, and AA Milne.

Within his will, Charles Dickens goes into detail about how he wanted to have no monument or memorial erected in his name and says, “I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works”. The author also allegedly left £80,000 to his chosen beneficiaries, which would equate to over £7 million today.

George Orwell is claimed to have wanted his manuscripts and any personal documentation to be preserved. Economist John Maynard Keynes, however, asked for any unpublished manuscripts and other documents to be destroyed on his death.

Accessing a will costs £10 and will take about 10 days for the electronic copy to be received. For more information and to do a search, simply visit

Being Fair to Step Children

Being Fair to Step Children

Being Fair to Step Children is a problem our Estate Planning Department wrestles with most days, trying to help clients be as fair as possible when creating Estate Plans including Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney as well as Trusts and Inheritance Tax Planning. In a lot of cases, the children of the first person to die inherit nothing, as the survivor remarries and leaves everything to their new spouse.  Legal Planning is an ongoing process, facilitated by being a member of the Peace of Mind Service.

But back to the question: Being Fair to Step Children

Question: My wife died intestate earlier this year.

We jointly owned the property with both names being on the title deeds.  I am being pressurised by my step-sons to alter the title deeds of the house via a deed of variation to reflect that my 2 step-sons will inherit their fathers share of my house upon my death.

I have included this instruction in my will but this appears not to be satisfactory.  My wife’s estate was worth less than £250,000 and I have therefore inherited everything.  I am not happy about altering the title deeds of my house-I am in poor health and I need security for the remainder of my life.

Can you tell me what my rights are please?  My own solicitor seems out of her depth with this issue.

How to be Fair to Step Children – reply.

It is not you who are short of rights, but the other side who have none.

None at all, unless your wife was still supporting the sons, in which case they may well have a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependents) Act 1975.

If you do what they say, you will create an unnecessary tax bill for the daughters and be beholden to them for the rest of you life, and subject to their divorces or other financial issues potentially making you homeless. However, it is reasonable to argue that some provision ought to be made for step children – it often is not and gives rise to massive amounts of bitterness.

But in this particular case, there is a solution which protects your interests and theirs pretty much 100%, apart from a couple of issues which may or may not be of concern to you. It is better for everyone, especially you. And the sons will not be creating an unnecessary tax bill.

Give me a ring and I will go through the issues with you.
The cost is significantly more than a Deed of Variation, but (on the face of it) a simple
Deed of Variation would seem to be bad for everyone!

Stop worrying! It is possible to be fair to step children without creating problems.

Best wishes,