What most of us think of as a "Will" is technically a "Testament". It is a statement of how you want your wordly assets distributed upon your death. A "Will," in a strict technical sense, is a statement of how you want things to carry on after your death. For example, splitting your worldly goods and giving 50% to each of your two children would be a Testament. Setting aside a million pounds in gold and giving them a check for some fraction every year for the next 20 years would be a Will.
But, since the two types of document are often combined, the item has come to be called a "Last Will and Testament", or simply "Will". Both kinds of documents go through Probate, where they are verified ("proved") and administered. The Executor has to report to the Probate Court that he has carried out the instructions in the Testament and Will.
There is a National (England & Wales) index for wills after 1858 (see below). The Nottinghamshire Archives has this index on microfiche up to the mid-20th century. That's not much help to you who are out of the county, but it does mean that LDS Libraries (Family History Centres) should have copies.
Wills are an excellent resource for Family Historians, as they often contain details of both property and family. The best place to look for information on wills is in the Nottinghamshire Archives.
It was rare for a wife to make a will prior to the Married Womens' Property act of 1882. Until then, they and their possessions were treated as the possessions of the husband. A wife could only make a valid will with his consent. Wills made by widows and unmarried women are fairly common. A female could make a will from the age of 12 (Statute of Wills 1540) until 1837 when the age was raised to 21 by the Wills Act (and from 14 to 21 for males). [Christopher KIRMAN]
There is a National Probate Calendar (covering the years 1858 - 1943) which is available in some Record Offices, but is also held at the National Archives in Kew and at the Family Record Centre. The Society of Genealogists has microfilm copies which go up to around 1952. To find out where copies are held in Record Offices, see: Genuki Probate.
Anne Cole adds: "The wills are in very large books in no sort of order (at) the Archives. You need the information from the index that gives you the actual date of probate plus other information."
Provided by Craig Pickup:
Under the feudal system real property was not bequeathable but had to be retained whole and descended by Common Law intact to a man's heir. Only leaseholds could be bequeathed. The church later made all other types of property bequeathable. The document describing the owner's wishes on what happened to this property was originally called a Testament.
During the 15th century the law restricting the devising of land was got around by conveying real estate, during the individual's life, to trustees know as the 'feofees to uses' ('to hold to the use of the owner's will'), and the document instructing the trustees was known as his Will.
In 1535-6 this device was made illegal by the Statute of Uses. In 1540 the Statue of Wills allowed certain types of reality to be devised, subject to certain restrictions. This allowed the two documents to be combined under the title Last Will and Testament, now simply called "the Will".
(The above is an abstract of the entry for Wills in "The Dictionary of Genealogy." by Terrick V. H. FitzHUGH)
Coroners Reports were completed whenever an unidentitifed body was found or there was some suspicion of foul play. These are often listed in local newspapers.
Other resources include:
Many of these definitions were contributed by Susanne in Australia and Anne COLE of Lincolnshire.
Also see: "Words from Wills and other probate records" by Stuart A. Raymond.
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