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Ask-the-Pros – Question and Answer – When did they begin taxing estates?


When did they begin taxing estates in America? Where are these records found?


Probate records are an excellent source of information about individuals and their families. Probate records are court records created after an individual’s death that relate to the disposition of the estate to the heirs or creditors and the care of dependents. In most cases, when there was either personal property or real property owned by the deceased, it was necessary to have the estate probated, whether there was a will (testate) or not (intestate). Some records, such as a will or trust were created during the lifetime of the deceased. Other records pertain to the probate process. These may include a copy of the will, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. All of these documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. You may also learn about the adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. Additional clues often found in probate records are an ancestor’s previous residence, occupation, land ownership, household items, former spouse(s), religion, and military service. For further information see United States Probate Records in the FamilySearch Research Wiki and Wikipedia: Probate.

Probate records are essential for research because they often pre-date the birth and death records kept by civil authorities.

In conjunction with the probate it is not uncommon for various jurisdictions, country and state or province to impose a tax on the transfer of the estate to the heirs in special circumstances. Depending on the jurisdiction, these records may be found either with the probate documents or with the taxing authority. In the United States, there is an inheritance tax but only for larger estates beginning in 1898. In England the Succession Duty Act of 1853 imposed a tax with some very specific inclusions and exclusions. See Wikipedia: Inheritance Tax. There is very little uniformity in the imposition of inheritance taxes. In the United States, some of the state levy a tax and some do not. The state records could also be found with the probate documents or in the state taxing authorities records.

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