I have several wills from 16th/17th century England where a witness to the will had the same name as one of the sons who was a beneficiary in that will. I have always assumed these witnesses were other relatives of the same name rather than the sons.

I would have thought that it would not have been valid or legal for a beneficiary to be a witness to a will, for obvious reasons. However I am unsure where I got this idea into my head and if I am anachronistically attributing more modern probate laws to this earlier period.

Does ecclesiastical or common law from 16th/17th century England dictate who could and could not be witness to a will? Or was it perfectly acceptable for a son to witness his father's will even if he was one of the main beneficiaries?


1 Answer 1


Wikipedia says about the Legal History of Wills in England:

the Statute of Frauds (1677) dealt with the formalities of execution. Up to this time simple notes, even in the handwriting of another person, constituted a sufficient will, if published by the testator as such. The Statute of Frauds required, inter alia, that all devises should be in writing, signed by the testator or by some person for him in his presence and by his direction, and should also be subscribed by three or four credible witnesses. The strict interpretation by the courts of the credibility of witnesses led to the passing of an Act in 1751-1752, making interested witnesses sufficient for the due execution of the will, but declaring gifts to them void.

1751-1752 is later that your interest but suggests that before then it was possible (if perhaps viewed as somewhat dodgy and in need of sorting out by the mid 1700s) for a beneficiary to witness a will, or for a will not to be witnessed at all.

Prior to the Statute of Frauds, the Statute of Wills seems to be the relevant legislation, introducing the need for witnesses among other things.

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