Our recent EWGS October workshop featured a presentation on Probate Records by member Susan Beamer. I sent her a follow-up question asking WHY did every little thing have to be listed in an inventory? Wouldn’t and why not the widow just get everything?? Here is her answer:
In order to disperse the estate to the heirs, you have to know what's there. Part of that is anything owed the estate (anything the deceased lent--money or otherwise) or any outstanding bills the deceased owed themselves. They collect what is owed. So the bills are paid first out of what is left of the estate. If things have to be sold to do that, then they are sold. This is especially true when people die without a will--intestate. What is left is then dispersed to the heirs. Most often heirs of those who die intestate aren't wealthy and there are enough of them (often enough) that everything sellable is sold, pooled and divided by the number of heirs, given as cash.