Wills were usually written in the presence of witnesses. However, on rare occasions, the verbal requests of someone near death were noted by witnesses and then registered in the normal way. They are termed nuncupative wills.
In such cases when someone died intestate, that is without having made a will, the next of kin or heir at law would seek letters of administration from the relevant ecclesiastical court. This meant that they could distribute the possessions of the deceased as they saw fit.
In many instances, the deceased's widow or next of kin was empowered by a probate court to distribute the estate as he or she saw fit; while anyone with a claim to the estate of the deceased could apply for a similar letter of administration. The estate of a deceased with no next of kin reverted to the state.
COPPERPLATE HANDWRITING: Written in English and Latin, the PCC registered will of Jane Countess of Southampton is a challenging read!
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