Ancestral estate planning can create challenges for the genealogist.

At one point in the late 1860s James and Elizabeth Rampley owned several hundred acres in Hancock County, Illinois. One would think that by the time they passed away in the 1880s, there would be an estate settlement for one of them.

It was not to be.

James and Elizabeth sold all their real estate to their sons before they died. The deeds were of the “$1 and love and consideration” variety. No money really changed hands. On one deed, James and Elizabeth retained a life estate in a ten acre portion of the property they sold to one son and they were to remain “undisturbed” on that property for the duration. The deeds partially explained why James and Elizabeth had no probate–there was no real estate they owned at their death.

It’s probable that the family settled up the funeral expenses and other non-real estate financial issues after the surviving parent died. Elizabeth died a year before James and, given the time period, the lack of an estate settlement for her (since James survived) was not a surprise.

James effectively avoided any probate. I’m not certain how (or if) they provided for their one daughter as it was only the sons to whom they deeded property. It’s possible that they provided some financial assistance to their daughter upon her marriage.

But, just like today, sometimes our ancestors worked to avoid probate. Ask yourself if there are other records that they left behind instead.

Unless they died penniless and never had any money. Those people avoided probate as well–and I’ve got several of those in my tree as well.



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