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This article discusses the reliability of probate valuations as a source for studying nineteenth-century wealth-holding by examining the extent to which estates were encumbered by debt. Drawing upon the analysis of a sample of Legacy-Duty Office residuary account papers, it discusses the types and sizes of debts and compares the net values of personal estates with the gross estimates made for the purposes of probate. While indebtedness was widespread, few estates were totally consumed by debt. In nearly two-thirds of cases the probate valuation was between fifty and 100 per cent of the net value of an estate. These findings suggest that historians can place more faith in the accuracy of probate valuations as a true measure of worth. © Institute of Historical Research 2006.

Original publication




Journal article


Historical Research

Publication Date





383 - 403