Excerpted from The National Archives of Scotland website;
What are wills and testaments?
Testament is the collective term used to describe all the documents relating to the executry of a deceased person. Every testament has an inventory of the dead person’s property. This may be a brief summary valuation of the goods involved, or it can be a long list of individual items and valuations. In addition, some testaments (the minority) include a will, a statement by the deceased person of how they wished their wordly goods to be disposed of among their family and friends. Where there is a will, the document was known as a ‘testament testamentar’ (the equivalent of English probate). If there was no will, it was called a ‘testament dative’ (the equivalent of English letters of administration).
Did everyone leave a testament?
No. It may sound surprising, but very few Scots left testaments. One of the reasons for this is that Scotland was, until comparatively recent times, a relatively poor country. Even in 1961 only about 43% of Scots dying in that year left testamentary evidence of any sort.
What testaments can tell you
For family historians wills can often provide a wealth of detail about family relationships, and about how people lived. You can hope to find names of family members, their relationships and details of everyday possessions. You may also find details of the debts that they owed at the time of their death. It is worth remembering, however, that the eldest son in a family will often not be mentioned, because he inherited the heritable property (land and buildings) of his deceased father.
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