The Bullitt County History Museum

Researching Probate Records
by Betty R. Darnell

This is one in a series of researching tips taken from presentations by Betty R. Darnell, a noted local historian and genealogist. These notes are copyrighted by her.


Where are the Records?

In Kentucky, probate records are at the county clerk’s office. Older records are also on microfilm at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives (KDLA), Frankfort; at the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS); and maybe at the local library. (In some states, probate records are at the circuit clerk’s office.)

Basic Terminology

  • Testate – died leaving a will
  • Intestate – died without a will
  • A will devises real property [land]; a testament bequeaths personal [moveable] property.
  • Executor – named in the will to handle the estate
  • Administrator – appointed by the court when there is no will
  • Administrator with will annexed – when the will does not name an executor, or the executor is deceased
  • Administrator de bonis non – when the executor or administrator dies during the proceedings
  • Codicil – addition or change to the will
  • Moiety – one-half; equal shares
  • Nuncupative will – an oral will, as a death-bed will; usually can’t leave real property, must be written by a witness
  • Holographic will – written, dated, and signed by the deceased

The Process

The principal heir petitions the court to begin the probate process (may be verbal, recorded in probate minute books; later records may include petition naming all heirs)

Witnesses to the will attest in court; the original will is retained by the court

Court approves the executor or names an administrator; administrator posts a bond equal to the worth of the estate

Court appoints three men to inventory and appraise the estate; guardian is appointed for minor heirs

If estate needs the cash, an estate sale is authorized; sale bill is recorded, naming buyers, item purchased, and price

Periodic settlements record payments made to the estate, payments made by the estate, and payments made to the heirs

When all parties agree, and when all heirs reach age 21, the property is divided and the case is closed. Each heir signs a receipt, often giving place of residence, and daughters’ husbands’ names. (Some probate processes may continue for 20 years, if there are minor heirs.)

The Records

The will books are transcripts of the original records. Look for the originals.

Early wills may be recorded in deed books. Later estate records may be recorded in separate books: Wills, Inventories & Appraisals, Sales, Settlements.

If the deceased owned land and did not leave a will, there should be a deed from “the heirs of …” listing all the heirs with their places of residence.

Abstracting the Records: What are we looking for?

  • Residence of the writer of the will
  • Relationships
  • Occupation
  • More than one marriage?
  • Special clauses
  • Signature (on the original will)
  • Witnesses
  • When will proved
  • Is there a codicil?

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 13 Jul 2015 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/darnell/darnell_probate.html