Nuncupative Will

Nuncupative Will
Nuncupative Will
Full Overview Of Nuncupative Will

Nuncupative wills, also known as oral wills, are wills that are spoken rather than written. In the context of British law, they have a unique historical background and specific conditions under which they are recognised.

This comprehensive overview aims to provide a detailed understanding of nuncupative wills, including their legal framework, practical applications, advantages, and challenges. This guide is intended for individuals considering the creation of such wills and for legal professionals who may encounter them in their practice.

Legal Framework and Historical Context

Nuncupative wills have a long historical presence, dating back to times when literacy was not widespread, and oral declarations were often the primary means of expressing one’s final wishes. Under English law, the formal requirements for wills are outlined in the Wills Act 1837 and the subsequent Wills Act 1963. These Acts generally mandate that wills be written, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two individuals to be legally valid.

However, nuncupative wills are a notable exception to these stringent requirements, albeit under very limited and specific circumstances. Historically, they were often used by soldiers, sailors, and others in situations where it was impossible to produce a written document. Today, their recognition in British law is rare and primarily confined to extraordinary situations.

Conditions for Validity

The legal recognition of nuncupative wills is constrained by stringent conditions, reflecting their exceptional nature. These conditions include:

Imminent Death:

Nuncupative wills are typically recognised only when made by individuals who are facing imminent death. This includes scenarios such as a terminal illness or being on the verge of death due to a severe injury.

Military and Maritime Contexts:

Historically, nuncupative wills were more commonly accepted for military personnel on active duty and sailors at sea, reflecting the practical difficulties these individuals faced in creating written documents.

Witness Requirements:

For a nuncupative will to be considered valid, it must be made in the presence of at least two witnesses. These witnesses must be present simultaneously and hear the testator’s declaration of their final wishes.

Subsequent Documentation:

Following the oral declaration, the nuncupative will should ideally be documented in writing as soon as possible. This written record should include the declaration’s date, time, and circumstances, and be signed by the witnesses.

Content and Scope of Nuncupative Wills

Nuncupative wills generally cover the same scope as written wills, but due to their nature, they often focus on essential and urgent matters. The content typically includes:

Distribution of Assets:

Specific bequests of personal property or assets, often focus on immediate and valuable items rather than detailed estate planning.

Appointment of Executors:

Designation of an executor to administer the estate and ensure that the testator’s wishes are carried out.

Guardian Appointments:

In cases involving minors, the appointment of guardians may be included.

Other Specific Instructions:

Any other urgent and specific instructions the testator deems necessary to convey verbally.

Practical Applications and Limitations

While nuncupative wills can be vital in specific contexts, they also come with inherent limitations and practical challenges:

Urgency and Situational Context:

The primary application of nuncupative wills is in urgent situations where creating a written will is impractical or impossible. This situational context is both their strength and limitation, as it confines their use to rare and exceptional circumstances.

Legal Uncertainty:

Nuncupative wills often face scrutiny and challenges in probate court due to their oral nature. Establishing their validity can be complex, and they are more prone to disputes and contestation than written wills.

Geographical Limitations:

The recognition of nuncupative wills varies significantly by jurisdiction. Their use is highly restricted in England and Wales, while other jurisdictions, such as certain US states and maritime contexts, may have different provisions.

Witness Reliability:

The reliability and credibility of witnesses are crucial in upholding a nuncupative will. Any discrepancies in witness testimony can lead to disputes and complications in validating the will.

Advantages of Nuncupative Wills

Despite their limitations, nuncupative wills offer several advantages in specific contexts:

Accessibility in Emergencies:

They provide a means for individuals to express their final wishes in emergencies when creating a written will is not feasible.

Historical and Cultural Significance:

Nuncupative wills hold historical significance and remain relevant in certain cultural and traditional contexts where oral declarations are respected and valued.


They offer flexibility for individuals who cannot write or communicate their wishes through traditional means due to physical limitations or sudden illness.

Challenges and Considerations

Creating and validating a nuncupative will involves several challenges and considerations that must be carefully addressed:

Evidentiary Challenges:

Proving the existence and content of a nuncupative will in court can be difficult. The reliance on oral testimony increases the risk of disputes and misunderstandings.

Limited Recognition:

The limited legal recognition of nuncupative wills may not be accepted in all jurisdictions or under all circumstances, leading to potential legal complications.

Witness Selection:

Choosing reliable and credible witnesses is crucial. Witnesses should be individuals with no vested interest in the estate to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure impartiality.

Post-Declaration Documentation:

Promptly documenting the nuncupative will in writing and having it signed by the witnesses can significantly strengthen its validity and reduce potential disputes.

Case Studies

Examining case studies can provide practical insights into the application and challenges of nuncupative wills:

Military Scenario:

A soldier on active duty in a combat zone made a nuncupative will before a critical mission, declaring his final wishes to his comrades. The will was later contested by family members, but the testimony of his fellow soldiers and prompt documentation helped uphold its validity in court.

Terminal Illness:

An individual diagnosed with a terminal illness made a nuncupative will in the presence of two nurses and a close friend. The will was subsequently documented, and despite initial challenges, it was accepted by the probate court due to the credible witnesses and timely written record.

Maritime Context:

A sailor on a long voyage fell gravely ill and made a nuncupative will in the presence of the ship’s captain and a fellow sailor. The will detailed specific bequests and the appointment of an executor. Upon return, the captain’s log and witness testimony were crucial in validating the will.

Support and Resources for Individuals

Individuals considering a nuncupative will or facing related legal issues can access various support and resources:

Legal Advice:

Seeking legal advice from solicitors with expertise in wills and probate law is essential to understanding the implications and ensuring the will meets legal requirements.

Emergency Planning:

Engaging in emergency estate planning and discussing potential scenarios with legal professionals can help individuals prepare for situations where a nuncupative will may be necessary.

Witness Preparation:

Educating potential witnesses about their roles and responsibilities can help ensure they provide reliable testimony if needed.

The Role of Solicitors

As solicitors, our role in advising on and validating nuncupative wills is crucial. Our responsibilities include:

Advising Clients:

Providing clear and comprehensive advice on the feasibility and implications of creating a nuncupative will, especially in emergency situations.

Witness Coordination:

Assisting clients in selecting appropriate witnesses and ensuring they understand their roles and the importance of their testimony.


Promptly documenting the nuncupative will in writing and ensuring it meets legal requirements to strengthen its validity.

Probate Support:

Providing support and representation in probate court to validate the nuncupative will and address any disputes or challenges.

Educational Resources:

Offering educational resources and emergency planning advice to clients to prepare for situations where a nuncupative will may be necessary.


Spoken wills are a unique and historically significant part of wills and probate law. They are only used in special circumstances and must meet strict conditions. These wills are important because they allow individuals to express their final wishes in emergencies when they can’t write them down.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to helping our clients navigate the complexities of spoken wills with expertise and empathy. We ensure that these wills meet all legal requirements and that our client’s final wishes are respected. We also provide strong legal support and advocate for the validity of spoken wills in probate court to minimise conflicts and support families during difficult times.

Our work contributes to a legal system that values fairness, justice, and the importance of honouring individuals’ final wishes. We ensure that every spoken will is treated with the significance and respect it deserves.”

Nuncupative Will FAQ'S

A nuncupative will is an oral will that is spoken to witnesses rather than written down. Historically, such wills were allowed under certain circumstances, such as for soldiers or sailors in active service.

No, nuncupative wills are not legally recognised in the UK.

The Wills Act 1837 requires that all wills be written, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two individuals.

No, under current UK law, all wills must be written and meet the formal requirements set out in the Wills Act 1837. There are no exceptions for nuncupative wills.

If someone makes an oral will in the UK, it will not be legally valid. The estate will be distributed according to the most recent valid written will or, if none exists, according to the rules of intestacy.

Historically, nuncupative wills were permitted for certain individuals, such as soldiers or sailors. However, the practice was abolished with the enactment of the Wills Act 1837, which standardised the requirements for valid wills.

It is crucial to create a written will as soon as possible.

In emergency situations where creating a formal will is not feasible, individuals should seek legal advice to explore alternative ways to document their wishes, such as making a video recording or writing a letter, although these methods are not legally binding.

A valid will in the UK must be:

  • In writing
  • Signed by the testator (or by someone else in their presence and at their direction)
  • Witnessed and signed by two witnesses in the presence of the testator

No, a video recording cannot replace the legal requirements for a written will in the UK. A will must be in writing, signed, and witnessed to be valid.

If a will cannot be found, efforts should be made to locate it by checking with solicitors, banks, and the deceased’s personal papers.

If no will is found, the estate will be administered according to the rules of intestacy.

Witnesses to a will should not be beneficiaries or the spouses of beneficiaries.

If a beneficiary or their spouse witnesses the will, the gift to that beneficiary may be void, but the rest of the will remains valid.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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