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Written Wills

In New Brunswick, written wills date back to about 1785.  If a person left no will, he or she is said to have died intestate and the estate was distributed according to provincial laws at the time.  All wills were supposed to be proven in the probate court in the county in which the deceased owned property and the witnesses had to satisfy the court that the will shown in court was truly that of the deceased.  Some wills were never registered or probated and can turn up in family documents, or in the papers of a law office.  In earlier times, many settlers were engaged in a real struggle for survival and little time could be spared for taking care of legal formalities.  Carelessness in officially filing a will was common and if the property in a will was very small, the will may never have been probated.  In cases where the transfer of property was considered important to an individual drawing up a will, the document was often filed in the County Registry Office records among the deeds.

The will named at least one male executor, or a female executrix, usually the wife, who was to settle the estate of the deceased before the courts.  Witnesses testified that they saw the will signed.  Letters testamentary were then granted authorizing the executors to proceed with the task of distributing the property in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.  In intestate cases, the courts appointed an administrator (male) or an administratrix (female) to distribute the property among the heirs according to intestate laws.  Usually these individuals are the wife, the oldest able son living in the area, or the brother of the deceased.  In intestate cases, there usually are documents that list the names of surviving relatives.

Few First Nation people, ordinary farmers, small tradesmen or women left wills.  Usually officials, merchants and gentry most frequently made out wills because they were the people with enough property to necessitate legal action.  Many families arranged matters among themselves with one of the children receiving the farm on condition that they took care of the parents in their old age.  A deed may sometimes be found among the records of the County Registry Office describing this arrangement.  Wills never give the maiden name of the wife.