National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

What do Wills and Testaments Contain?

What do Wills and Testaments Contain?

Under Scots Law, an individual's property was divided into two types:

  • Heritable property consisted of land, buildings, minerals and mining rights, and usually passed to the eldest son. 
  • Moveable property consisted of anything that could be moved, for example, household and personal effects, investments, tools, machinery. It was divided into a maximum of three parts: the widow's part, the children's part (all children had a right to an equal share) and the deceased's part (what was to be disposed of in the will). 

Wills and testaments before 1868 only contain details of moveable property.  Between 1868 and 1964 a will could transfer both moveable and heritable property.  It is worth remembering, then, that the eldest son in a family will often not be mentioned in wills before 1868 because he usually inherited the heritable property of his deceased father.

Wills can often provide plentiful detail about family relationships, and about how people lived. You might find the names of family members, their relationships and details of everyday possessions. The part of the will known as the inventory is an overall valuation of the deceased person's possessions. Sometimes it is brief and sometimes it is very detailed with the value of every item listed. It can include items such as furniture, clothes, jewellery, books, papers, livestock, farm equipment, cash and investments. As such it can give an insight into your ancestor's lifestyle and help to build up a picture of what life was like in a particular area at any one time.

You may also find details of the debts that they owed at the time of their death or of money owed to them.