Probate Jurisdiction in Early Modern England: England’s Own ‘Peculiar Institution’ in Crisis
Church-court practice cautiously recognized the validity of verbal estate plans, even though contemporary legal commentators and the court seem to have understood that wills by word of mouth were 'litigation breeders'. This chapter argues that while the adoption of the Statute of Frauds probably limited the number of disputes over oral wills in the Prerogative Court, litigation continued to arise. Accordingly, George Meriton maintained, some property-owners who were caught unawares and faced imminent death would have their goods descend through the law of intestate succession rather than pursuant to last-minute volition unless spoken words could constitute a valid will. That early modern Englishmen and women were aware that the law recognized nuncupative wills can be observed by both word and deed in the Canterbury causes. The two nuncupative wills that emerge in the collection were made by mariners who died at sea whose wills were therefore exempt from the statute's mandates.