Fw: Scotland Wills & Testaments Now Online:
- Hello Group....
The below information, thanks to and derived from Sally Pavia, will
be of interest to many of you.
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----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, November 07, 2012 8:47 AM
Subject: Scotland Wills & Testaments Now Online:
Wills & Testaments
If a person wished to settle his or her affairs before death, they drew up a
will, which set down their instructions as to the disposal of their
possessions and named the executor whom they wished to administer the estate
The executor had to be confirmed by the court and the document drawn up by
the court for this purpose is known as a testament. There are two types of
testaments: the testament testamentar and testament dative.
The testament testamentar applied when the deceased died testate (leaving a
will). It comprised four parts: the introductory clause, an inventory of the
deceased's possessions (see below), the confirmation clause and a copy of
the will, stating the wishes of the deceased regarding the disposal of the
estate and naming the executor (usually a family member) he or she had
chosen to undertake this task. If a copy of the will was not included,
reference was made to it having been recorded elsewhere, probably in the
court's Registers of Deeds.
The testament dative was drawn up by the court if a person died intestate
(without leaving a will), in order to appoint and confirm the executor on
their behalf. It comprised three parts: the introductory clause, an
inventory of the deceased's possessions, and the confirmation clause. The
testament dative might name a family member as executor, but if the deceased
died in debt, a creditor might be appointed as executor instead. In such
cases, the testament would include a list of the deceased's debts and would
exist solely for the purpose of authorising the discharge of those debts.
Under Scots Law, an individual's property was divided into two types:
Heritable property consisted of land, buildings, minerals and mining rights,
and passed to the eldest son according to the law of primogeniture.
Moveable property consisted of anything that could be moved e.g. household
and personal effects, investments, tools, machinery. It was divided into a
maximum of three parts: the widow's part, the bairns part (all children had
a right to an equal share) and the dead's part. For more detailed
information on inheritance see FAQs on Property & Inheritance
Before the early years of the 19th century, testaments related only to the
moveable property of the deceased. However, from the early 19th century
onwards, it was not uncommon to find dispositions, settlements, trust
dispositions and settlements, etc. recorded in the commissary court
registers, and these documents often included details of heritable property.
After 1868, the law of primogeniture, where the eldest son inherited
everything, still applied to heritable property unless there had been a
specific disposition or bequest by the deceased to another party.
The inventory lists the moveable property belonging to the deceased at the
time of his or her death. It can include household furnishings, clothes,
jewellery, books, papers, farm stock and crops, tools and machinery, money
in cash, bank accounts and investments, as well as money owed to creditors
and money due from debtors. Often the inventory consists only of a brief,
overall valuation, but sometimes it is very detailed, with the value of
every item listed. As such, it can supply a snapshot of the deceased's
lifestyle and help to build up a picture of what social and economic
conditions were like in a particular locality at a particular time. An
inventory that contains a 'roup roll' is particularly interesting in that it
itemises each lot sold in the auction and states the prices paid (sometimes
with the names of the purchasers).
Almost every document in the wills & testaments index contains an inventory
of some kind, except where there are separate registers for wills. See the
Famous Scots section for the inventories of Rob Roy McGregor, David
Livingstone, Adam Smith and many others, or look atThe Way People Lived for
Before 1823, testaments were recorded in the Commissary Court with
jurisdiction over the parish in which the person died. Commissary Court
boundaries roughly corresponded to those of the mediaeval dioceses that
existed before the Reformation, and bear no relation to county boundaries.
The Edinburgh Commissary Court, as the principal court, also had the power
to confirm testaments for those who owned moveable property in more than one
commissariot and for Scots who died outside Scotland.
Commissary Courts were abolished in 1823 and Sheriff Courts assumed
responsibility for confirmation of testaments from 1 January 1824, although
the changeover process created a considerable overlap of dates in some
courts. To find out more about the relationship between the Scottish
counties and the courts look at our Courts Map. For further information on
the courts themselves, see About The Courts
The Wills & Testaments Index
The wills & testaments index contains over 611,000 index entries to Scottish
wills and testaments dating from 1513 to 1925. Each index entry lists the
surname, forename, title, occupation and place of residence (where these are
given) of the deceased person, the court in which the testament was recorded
with the date. Index entries do not include names of executors, trustees
heirs to the estate. They also do not include the deceased's date of death,
or the value of the estate.
If you are searching for a will or testament, you should bear in mind that
there was no legal requirement for individuals to make a will. Indeed,
comparatively few Scots actually bothered to do this. Even if someone died
intestate, there was no obligation for the family to go to court to have the
deceased's affairs settled. Many families sorted things out amicably amongst
themselves, in which case there will be no testament.
It is always worthwhile checking the indexes, however, because they can
include persons from quite humble origins.
Sometimes the intervention of the court to settle the deceased's affairs was
not required until many years after the death, possibly due to a dispute,
therefore if a will or testament exists, it may be recorded much later than
you would expect.
Images of Wills & Testaments
Images of wills and testaments from 1500 to 1925 are available on this site.
These images are full colour, authentic facsimiles of the original documents
which are held at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh. For reasons
of preservation, the original documents have now been withdrawn from public
To find out more about what you might expect to see on a wills & testaments
image, look at Images
Sample images of wills & testaments from different periods can be viewed by
selecting the appropriate period from the left hand menu.