This collection includes images of probate records from the state of California. Probate records are among the most valuable records available for American genealogy but can be challenging to access because originals are kept in courthouses across the country. This collection includes images of probate records for approximately 62 percent of California counties. The records come from a collection of microfilm that took years to compile. They have been brought together from multiple courthouses over time to give you a single source to search. Some localities and time periods may not be included because they were not available to be acquired as part of this collection, or the records may have been lost or destroyed before the effort to collect them all began. If you are looking for a probate record and believe it to be from a county or year range that is not included in this collection, you can try contacting the appropriate county courthouse to see if the records are available. For details on which counties and records are included in this collection, please explore the browse menu.
About Probate Records
Probate records relate to a deceased person’s estate, whether that estate is “testate” (through a will) or “intestate” (without a will). Whether the decedent left a large estate or just some personal property, there’s a good chance that a probate file exists in a local court that oversaw distribution of property, the guardianship of a minor, or payment of debts.
The contents of a probate file can vary from case to case, but certain details are found in most probates, most importantly, the names and residences of beneficiaries and their relationship to the decedent. An inventory of the estate assets can reveal personal details about the deceased’s occupation and lifestyle. There may also be references to debts, deeds, and other documents related to the settling of the estate.
Note: Some of the records in this collection are organized in packets. As you browse these images we have included a table of contents to help you navigate. If nothing is provided in the table of contents, that suggests the record consists of a single document.
Types of Probate Records
Here are some of the types of documents you may run across in this collection:
Wills. Wills direct the distribution of the estate according to the wishes of the testator. When the testator dies, the executor or executrix petitions the court for letters testamentary to prove (probate) the will. If the will is judged to be valid, it will be recorded in the will books of that court. The recorded will may include affidavits of witnesses attesting to the authenticity of the will and the competence of the testator at the time it was written. A copy of the will may also be found in the loose papers of a probate packet.
Letters of Administration. In cases of intestate estates, letters of administration are requested to grant an administrator (usually the widow/widower or eldest son) the right to oversee the distribution of the estate in accordance with prevailing laws.
Inventories. An inventory of the estate lists the assets with appraisals so an accurate accounting can be made and probate fees accurately levied. Inventories can give you some insights into your ancestor’s relative wealth, lifestyle, and occupation.
Distributions and Accounting. You may find documents relating to the distributions paid out of the estate for administrative costs, allowances for heirs prior to settlement, and the final distribution of the estate. You may also find receipts and documents relating to the sale of estate assets.
Bonds. Administrators, and at times executors, of estates may have been required to post a bond that would cover the value of the estate to protect the heirs from misconduct. Bondsmen were typically close family members, so these are important documents.
Guardianships. If a minor child or a family member deemed incompetent and dependent had an interest in the estate, you may find guardianship papers included in the probate file. In addition, the guardian may have needed to post a bond equaling the value of the inheritance.