Nuncupative Will

WHAT IS Nuncupative Will

A nuncupative will, also known as an oral will or a verbal will, is instructions for distribution of personal property given by a person who is too sick to execute a written will. Nuncupative wills are not legal in most jurisdictions, but in jurisdictions in which they are legal, they require a set number of witnesses and must be written down by the witnesses as soon as possible.

A nuncupative will does not supersede a written will.

BREAKING DOWN Nuncupative Will

A nuncupative will is sometimes called a deathbed will. A nuncupative will is given when a person is sick or injured and is confined to a hospital or care situation with little time expected to live. Nuncupative wills come from an oral tradition before written documents were common and required for legal validity. They have similarities to traditions of leaving property to those who were present for the last moments of the deceased's life, and to deathbed confessions of having committed crimes.

Nuncupative wills are more common and more likely to be considered valid in England and Wales than they are in the United States. In the United States, the situations in which a nuncupative will is considered valid are limited to emergencies in which military members are in danger or injured. Military nuncupative wills are considered valid in a limited number of states, with the caveat that if the military member survives the situation that provoked the nuncupative will, the nuncupative will expires after a set amount of time which varies according to the branch of the military and the situation. Nuncupative wills made by civilians are rarely valid. A nuncupative will cannot undo anything in a written will that was fully executed according to the statutes of the local jurisdiction, no matter how long ago the written will was executed.

Usefulness of a Nuncupative Will

A nuncupative will has little legal validity in most states in the United States. However, in situations in which an heir, executor or personal representative needs to make a legal or financial decision, a nuncupative will can tell that person what the dying wishes of the soon-to-be-deceased are. This can make decisions about end-of-life care or the person’s estate simpler, and can reduce the number of disputes over the estate and over end-of-life arrangements by heirs and other representatives. In cases in which these disputes go to court, the judge may or may not take into account the nuncupative will as contributing evidence, although not a binding document. Emotionally, a representative who follows the instructions in a nuncupative will can assure the representative that they are fulfilling the wishes of the deceased.

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  1. Legal Information Institute. "Nuncupative Will." Accessed Feb. 5, 2021.

  2. Justia. "2012 New York Consolidated Laws, EPT -- Estates, Powers, and Trusts, 3-2.2 Nuncupative and Holographic Wills." Accessed Feb. 5, 2021.