News story

More than 6 million searches of new wills archive

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

More than 6 million searches of the government’s new archive of wills have been made in just 1 month.

Tens of thousands of people have gone online to buy copies of the wills of family members, famous names and historical figures by using the new digital service.

The archive contains more than 41 million wills held by the Probate Registry since 1858 when the documents became public records.

It includes the last wishes of leaders and high profile musicians and writers like John Lennon, JRR Tolkien and Freddie Mercury.

They also include wartime leader Winston Churchill, whose death was 50 years ago this week.

Winston Churchill's will (PDF, 921KB, 15 pages)

Since the launch on Saturday 27 December almost 25,000 wills have been bought, showing the strength of interest in the documents.

Justice Minister Lord Faulks said:

I am delighted so many people have taken advantage of our unique archive of wills and are looking into the histories of their families.

This is an incredible resource and I’m not surprised in the slightest that it has captured the public imagination so strongly.

Now we can all learn about the last wishes of our long lost great aunts from the comfort of our living room.

The innovative project has been carried out by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and storage and information management company Iron Mountain.

The project is a great example of how the government is opening up public services. It means requests can be dealt with quickly and without people needing to visit the Probate Registry to search archives in person.

The availability of the database of 41 million wills follows the first stage of opening up the archive when soldiers’ wills were made available in 2013. There have since been more than 2 million searches of that archive.

The latest phase in the programme means that people can now request a specific will online and receive an electronic copy within 10 working days.

Creating the wills archive is part of ongoing work to transform HMCTS to make it a modern, efficient, digital service which is easy for the public to access.

More than 150 cases have been filmed in the Court of Appeal since the government changed the law to allow court broadcasting in 2013 and £160 million is being invested in digital technology for courtrooms including video links, wi-fi and improved IT systems to end the system’s reliance on paper.

You can search for a will here.