Q: What is an Administration Bond? How is it different from a will? What would one learn from obtaining a copy of one? -- Pamela
A: When we think of probate records we all seem to concentrate on the will record. We often believe that the will is the only record that can supply us with any information. There are many other records that may be of use that are classified under probate records.
Probate records run the gambit as they cover every aspect of the dispersing of an individuals estate. In some instances that disbursement may have been directed by the wishes of the deceased through his or her will. In other instances, the laws of the state may determine who gets what.
Probate records are more than just wills.
What's the Difference
When a person dies, his estate is said to be either "testate" or "intestate." The difference is in whether or not he left a will. If the individual left a will then he is often times referred to as the testator and his estate is said to be testate. If he didn't leave a will and the law must determine the division of property then the estate is considered intestate.
The first thing your administration bond tells you is that it is likely that the estate was intestate. When a will is involved, usually the bond is for the executor.
Actually the administration bond is the second piece of paper generated on an intestate estate. The first are the letters of administration issued by the court to assign someone the responsibility of dispersing the deceased's property and taking care of any debts and other issues left hanging at the time of the death.
Letters vs. Bonds
The letters of administration are what authorize the individual to act on behalf of the deceased in paying any bills that are owed, collecting any debts owed to the deceased, arranging for payment of funeral expenses, and then dividing the property among the heirs.
The bond is the oath of the newly appointed administrator. The bond usually involves a level of money ranging from $50 to $500 depending on the laws of the state and the estate to be handled. The bond is a legal document that says that the administrator, and any others who help in posting the money, will forfeit the bond money should the administrator fail to complete the task at hand.
The letters of administration do not give you any more names than that of the court appointed administrator. The bond may give you names of additional men who are putting up some of the money. Once in awhile these people may be related. Usually the letters of administration and the bond are found on the same page of the probate books as they were often handled at the same time.
Only in unique situations will you find that an administrator has been assigned when a will exists. This is either because the executor declines to probate the estate or because the heirs feel that the executor is not doing a good job and the court agrees and assigns someone new. However, in most cases, when an administrator is involved there is no will that mentioned the children or spouse of the deceased.
First you will want to investigate if the locality in question has arranged the probate records into packets under the name of the deceased. Connecticut and New York are two states where most of the probate is arranged in packets, bringing all the records for a given estate into one box, folder or envelope.
Whether they are arranged this way or not, it is likely that additional records exist beyond the bond. There should be an accounting of the estate, especially if it was substantial. You may find newspaper announcements that list relatives. You may find receipts where the heirs are acknowledging receipt of their inheritance.
Probate records are more than just wills. While we love to find a will, there are times when the other records may actually reveal the most information about a family.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.