Norwegian Skifterett

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The Skifterett (probate court) include the city and rural areas in Norway and describes the distribution of a person’s estate.

Skifterett/Skifte (probate court and inheritance) in Norway was established in the mid 1600s. Prior to this time it was decided by law how inheritance was to be divided, but it was not a division of the court system at that time.

The Skifterett (the probate court) started around 1650 and is not a criminal court. The law stated that not every death should be listed in the probate records, but only when a deceased person left behind underage children, children not living in the area or when there were no children alive to inherit. When there were no children alive to inherit the estate the husbands family would inherit 50 % of the estate and when the wife died her family would inherit the remaining 50 % of the estate.

The living spouse (if a husband died) the widow would often be able to live on the farm in what is called "uskiftet bo" (un-probated estate), or she would be able to keep the estate because of a testament (living will). If a woman was pregnant at the time of her husband’s passing she would be allowed to stay in an un-probated estate until her unborn child was born so that he/she could inherit as well.

If a wife died, the husband would have to prove that his estate had gone to probate to protect the rights of their underage children before he could marry again. A male child would inherit twice the lot of a female child. This law was changed later in the late 1800s, and a female would inherit the same as a male child.

It was often a hardship to the family when their estate went into probate, because the probate officials were paid in kind and they usually kept the nicest pieces of property for their services.

In the 1700s the poorest in the community were free from having to go through probate. The more wealthy farmers had to go through probate but they often appealed to higher courts or had a living will prior to their passing. 

From mid 1600’s the sorenskriver (judge) would conduct the probate, but the clergy and military would conduct their own probates. The clergy conducted their own probate until 1809, and the military until 1824 when they both became part of the regular probate court and their probates were conducted by the sorenskriver (judge) as well.

The Norwegian State Archives have the majority of the probates, but Riksarkivet (National Archives) have several letters of military probates.

The term “Skifterett or Skifteretten” (probate court) was changed January 1st 2003 to the term “tingretten.” Terms such as Oslo skifterett og byskriverembete and Oslo byfogdembete will keep their present name, but in the case of bankruptcy will now be called “tingrett.”


-Imsen, Steinar and Winge, Harald: Norsk Historisk Leksikon – Kultur og samfunn ca. 1500 – ca. 1800, pages 387-379, 2nd ed. (Oslo, Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 2004). Accessed 20 November 2012.

-Konkursradet ”skifteretten. <!-421/>. Accessed 20 November 2012.

-Arveoppgjor ”tingretten.” <>. Accessed 20 November 2012.