Scottish Wills and Testaments 1

Before the 19th century, Inheritance Law in Scotland was unique in that all unmoveable property was inheritable by succession (automatically going to eldest son). Only moveable property could be dispersed as the dead wished. And then, only one third of the moveables. Here's how the distribution worked:

  • Heritable - land, buildings, mills, factories, minerals and mining rights. All heritable items were, by law, distributed by succession and automatically went to the eldest living son.
  • Willed - moveable items like furniture, jewellery, working animals, investments, tools (especially important for a tradesman) and personal effects were divided equally into three parts:
  • Widow's part - the widow received one third of all moveable property
  • Bairn's part - one third of estate was to be divided equally among all of the children.
  • Deid's part - final third was dispersed as the dead saw fit in his will.

If no widow remained, then the moveable part of the estate was divided into half with the children getting one half divided equally among them and the deceased dispersing the other half in his will.

If the deceased had no widow and no offspring, he could then disperse the whole of his moveable effects in his will.

The executor for the deceased part of his estate had to be confirmed by the court. The document that was drawn up by the court for the purpose of confirming the executor known as a testament. There are two types of testaments:

Testament Testamentar: The testament testamentar applied when the deceased died with a will.

Testament Dative: The testament dative was drawn up by the court if a person died without leaving a will (intestate).

The testament testamentar was comprised of four parts:

  • The introductory clause
  • The inventory of the deceased's moveable possessions
  • The confirmation clause
  • A copy of the will, stating the wishes of the deceased and naming the executor

The testament Dative was comprised three parts:

  • The introductory clause
  • The inventory of the deceased's moveable possessions
  • The confirmation clause.

Prior to 1823, testaments were dealt with through the Commissary courts for the parish in which the deceased resided.

Wills are held by the National Records of Scotland. They have been digitized and are available online up to 1925 at: The search is free and the index of search results is free to view. The images of wills are 10 credits to view.

 crown copyright, NRS, reference SC35/31/9 (Airdrie Sheriff Court)

crown copyright, NRS, reference SC35/31/9 (Airdrie Sheriff Court)

Soldier's Wills 

ScotlandsPeople also has images for ordinary soldiers, primarily soldiers of the first world war. These were recorded on the last page of the soldier's pass/paybook. The night before the soldier went to the trenches, his Commanding Officer made a strong recommendation that the soldiers take the time to write out their will. These are holographic wills (written in the person's own handwriting) and are regarding the disposal of his effects. Again, these are free to search, the index of results is free to view and the images themselves are 10 credits to view.

On these records,  you will get a brief summary of what the soldier wished to have happen to his effects. You will also see the soldier's handwriting and, best of all, you get the rank and regiment of the soldier, which then allows you to go to Findmypast and search for the soldier's military records.

Happy searching!



About Christine Woodcock

Scottish born, Canadian raised, Christine Woodcock is a genealogy educator with an expertise in the Scottish records. She enjoys sharing new resources to assist others in their quest to find and document their heritage. Christine is also a lecturer, author and blogger. She is the Director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland ( and enjoys taking fellow Scots “home” to do onsite genealogy research and to discover their own Scottish heritage.

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