Probate record keeping for England and Wales passed from the church to the state on 11 January 1858.
The Statute of Wills of 1540 provided that a 'will' should deal with real estate and 'testament' should deal with moveable personal property.
From 1540 until 1837 a will could be made by a male over the age of 14 years and by a female over the age of 12 years The property of a married woman was considered by law to belong to her husband until the Married Women's Property Act of 1882, when she was able to dispose of her property without her husbands permission. Spinster's and widows were excluded, and so were freely able to dispose of their property.
If you are unable to locate a probate record, then consider that any unadministered estate will sometimes be found when the heirs die.
Letters of Administration
In the cases where a person died intestate, that is without leaving a will, then very often matters would be settled by the relatives concerned without the need to invoke any legal process. Where agreement between relatives could not be obtained then Letters of Administration (also known as admon) had to be obtained. This granted legal power to the next of kin, or an adult, to administer the estate.
Where an executor, or executrix, was not specified, or if they were unwilling to act, then Letters of Administration would be granted to permit another person to Administer the estate. This will be shown as Administration (with Will).
Probate before 1858
Before 11 January 1958, wills and administration were handled by the ecclesiastical courts. There were rules to determine which ecclesiastical court probate woulf be granted. Probate would be granted in the Archdeacon's court that covered the area in which the testator's property was held. If property was held in more than one archdeaconry, thne probate would be granted the Bishop's Diocesan Court known as the Consistory Court. If the testator's property was in more than one diocese then the will would be proved in the appropriate Archbishop's Court, either the Prerogative Court of Canterbury or the Prerogative Court of York. The smallest courts of all are known as Peculiars which were controlled by ecclesiastical dignitaries.