It was perfectly valid for a will to be made orally until 1837, when the right was restricted to soldiers on active service or sailors away at sea. Indeed it has been estimated that around a third of wills were oral or nuncupative as they are known. So these wills are invaluable for family history research.
Many wills were spoken verbally because they were made on the deathbed of the testator. The Statute of Frauds of 1678 specified that they had to be made in the testator’s own home in their last illness. Three witnesses were also required to be present who had to write down the words within six days and after fourteen days, present the will at a probate court. Genealogist can find these wills in local archives
Many of those in their final days would have been incapable of handwriting their will (holographic) or organising a lawyer to write out a will on their behalf for them to sign. Many could not read and write and women, particularly widows, made a high proportion of nuncupative wills.
Not surprisingly, many of these wills were the subject of dispute in the ecclesiastical courts. Relatives who received nothing would argue that the will was not valid, for if an administration was ordered, they could receive part of the estate. Records of these disputes often contain information that is of genealogical value. and give us a clue to the the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors