Probate records document the disposition of a deceased individual's property and the placement of his minor children. Other documents one might find in probate records are guardianships of adults declared non compos mentis, name changes, and naturalizations.
The disposition of a decedent's property is done in accordance with the person's will if such a document was created by the deceased. In cases where the individual dies intestate (without a will), disposal of the deceased's property is handled in accordance with local laws. If a will exists, an executor or executrix will be named by the court, and will be charged with executing the documents in accordance with the decedent's wishes and relevant statutes. If no will exists, and there is no single, undisputed heir, an administrator or administratrix may be appointed by the court to oversee the settlement of debts and the division of the estate. If the estate cannot pay all the debts owed by the deceased, the estate is called insolvent.
Probate records may include an individual's last will and testament, if one was made. The information gained from probate records varies, but usually includes the name of the deceased, either the deceased's age at the time of death or birth date, property, members of the family, and the last place of residence.
Within the United States, probate records are generally found in the county where the deceased died or in the county where he or she maintained a primary residence. For instance, a resident of a northern state might own property there and might write his or her will in that state. He or she also might own a winter residence in a southern state. If he or she dies in mid-winter while residing in the southern state, the probate actions and records will probably be found in the state of the primary residence. In this case, that most likely will be the county of the primary residence within the northern state.