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Unlocking the Mystery of Nuncupative Wills: What You Need to Know

Introduction to Nuncupative Wills

When it comes to estate planning, we often hear about wills and trusts as a way to ensure our assets are distributed according to our wishes after we pass away. But have you ever heard of a Nuncupative will?

This type of will is also known as an oral or verbal will, and it allows you to make a testamentary disposition without putting anything in writing. In this article, we will explore the history and legality of Nuncupative wills, their key characteristics, limitations, and validity.

Origin and History of Nuncupative Wills

Nuncupative wills have a long history dating back to the Roman Empire, where the concept of an oral will was recognized in certain circumstances. The idea was then adopted by common law jurisdictions, including the United States.

Originally, oral wills were considered a valid method of estate planning because of the lack of available and accessible writing materials. As long as the deceased was able to convey their wishes, the testimony of witnesses was enough to support the claim.

However, writing eventually became more common, removing the need for oral communication.

Legal Recognition of Nuncupative Wills in US Jurisdictions

Today, the rules governing Nuncupative wills varies between states, and in some cases, they are not recognized at all. The majority of states that do recognize Nuncupative wills limit their validity to specific circumstances, such as when the testator is in imminent peril of death and has no opportunity to execute a written will.

The other common scenario is when a mariner at sea needs to make an oral testamentary disposition before three witnesses. Even when a Nuncupative will is recognized, it is considered to have limited validity.

In most states, it can only dispose of personal property, such as bank accounts, furniture, clothing, and jewelry. Real estate cannot be disposed of through an oral will, and in some states, the value of personal property that can be disposed of is limited to a few thousand dollars.

Key Facts about Oral Wills (Nuncupative Wills)

Definition and Alternative Names for Oral Wills

A Nuncupative will is also referred to as a vocal vow, spoken succession, deathbed will, or dying declaration. It is an oral representation of the testator’s wishes for the distribution of their personal property.

Legal Validity and Limitations of Nuncupative Wills

The validity of oral wills is subject to strict requirements. As mentioned earlier, they are typically only recognized in limited circumstances.

In addition, the testator must be of sound mind and memory at the time of making the will. Witnesses are also essential for the creation of an oral will.

In most states, three witnesses are required to hear the testator’s oral declaration and understand its contents. The witnesses must attest that the testator was of sound mind and under imminent peril of death when the will was made.

Expiration and Invalidity of Nuncupative Wills

The rules governing the expiration of Nuncupative wills also vary between states. Typically, the will must be made within a certain number of days before death, usually around 30 days.

If the testator dies more than 30 days after the will is made, it is invalid. In situations where the testator survives beyond 30 days but dies without executing a valid written will, the estate passes as if the testator died intestate.


In conclusion, a Nuncupative will can be a useful tool in certain circumstances. However, it has significant limitations and is not recognized in all states.

In most cases, it is advisable to create a written will or trust to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. It is also important to consult an attorney who can provide guidance and advice on estate planning strategies that are appropriate for your circumstances.

3) Estate Plan: What Is a Nuncupative Will, or Oral Will? Estate planning is a crucial aspect of ensuring our assets are distributed according to our wishes after we pass away.

When it comes to creating a will, most people assume that it must be in writing. However, there is an alternative known as a Nuncupative will, commonly referred to as an oral or verbal will.

Definition and Requirements of Nuncupative Wills

A Nuncupative will is a testamentary disposition that consists of oral instructions given by a testator, or the person making the will, before witnesses. It is often made in a deathbed situation with a time constraint due to imminent death.

In such cases, the testator may not have the opportunity or physical ability to execute a written will. As a result, they can make an oral statement to their intentions for asset distribution, which is accompanied and confirmed by at least three witnesses.

However, it is essential to note that a Nuncupative will is subject to strict requirements. Firstly, the testator must be of sound mind and memory at the time of making the will.

Secondly, the instructions must be given in the witness of at least three individuals who understand the contents of the will. Lastly, the will is valid only if the testator dies shortly after the oral statement, usually within a range of time set by specific state laws.

Video Wills as a Non-Legally Binding Option

In recent years, digital technology has provided a new option for people seeking to create a will known as the video will. These are not legally binding but rather a non-evidentiary declaration of intent.

Legal experts generally propose that witness requirements can vary from state-to-state, leading some to suggest short video clips.

The video will is similar to a holographic will in that both are non-witnessed and non-notarized wills.

In a holographic will, the testator writes down their intentions on a document, which is not witnessed or notarized. The document becomes a testamentary disposition after the testator dies.

Importance of Written Will and Estate Planning Documents

Despite the allowance of Nuncupative and holographic wills in some situations, it is exceedingly important to have a written legal will accompanied by other estate planning documents. A written will is the primary estate planning document that enables you to express your wishes about asset distribution, appoint an executor, and name guardians for your minor children.

In addition to a written will, a comprehensive estate plan would include other important documents like a power of attorney, advance healthcare directive, pay-on-death beneficiaries, retirement accounts, beneficiary designations, and life insurance policies. A power of attorney allows an appointed individual to manage your finances and make decisions on your behalf when you are incapacitated or unable to do so.

An advance healthcare directive is a document that specifies your wishes regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care.

Pay-on-death beneficiaries, retirement accounts, and beneficiary designations are essential in ensuring that your assets are directed according to your wishes, especially if they are not covered in your will.

Additionally, a life insurance policy provides funds for your loved ones after your passing. 4) Nuncupative Will States: Where Are They Valid?

Limited Recognition of Nuncupative Wills in US Jurisdictions

While several legal states in the United States allow Nuncupative wills under specific conditions, this type of will does not have broad or general acceptance across the country. Nuncupative wills are not legally binding in most cases and are usually only allowed under strict requirements and specific circumstances.

Examples of States That Accept Nuncupative Wills under Certain Conditions

North Carolina, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, and Tennessee are states that recognize Nuncupative wills under certain conditions. These conditions may include imminent peril of death, death during a military conflict, and for mariners at sea.

For instance, in New York, a Nuncupative will is only valid if it is made by members of the armed forces while engaged in an armed conflict, under circumstances that are such that they would be entitled to a testamentary disposition or amid a last illness. The testamentary disposition must be made in the spoken presence of another individual.

Importance of Consulting an Estate Planning Attorney

It is important to consult a qualified attorney to ensure that your estate plan is valid in your jurisdiction and in compliance with legal requirements. The validity and enforceability of estate planning documents like Nuncupative wills can vary depending on the jurisdiction.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you determine the best course of action, provide guidance on drafting a comprehensive estate plan, and ensure that all necessary legal requirements are met to safeguard your assets and provide for your loved ones after your passing.

5) Other Key Facts to Consider

While Nuncupative wills are recognized under specific circumstances in some US jurisdictions, it is essential to be aware of additional information concerning oral wills and the importance of a written will.

Additional Information on Oral Wills

Apart from the validity and recognition of Nuncupative wills in certain jurisdictions, it is also worth noting that they only apply to personal property and not real property. This means that oral wills may not be sufficient if there is real property that needs to be disposed of.

In addition, oral wills can only be made by individuals in actual military or naval service, or if there is a fear of impending peril or imminent death. The will must also be presented to a probate court within a specific timeframe.

Some argue that oral wills can be beneficial for individuals with a simple estate plan, and under certain circumstances, they can be a reasonable provision for asset distribution. However, in complex estates, individuals should consider creating a written plan with the guidance of an attorney.

Furthermore, disputes about the validity of oral wills in court are common, and they should be considered as a last resort when creating an estate plan. It is important for individuals to be aware of their options and seek advice from an estate planning attorney before making any significant decisions.

Importance of a Written Will for Most People

While some individuals choose to use Nuncupative wills, it is generally advisable to have a traditional written will. A written will is the standard legal document used to convey assets to beneficiaries.

It may also enable an individual to appoint an executor to oversee the distribution of assets, as well as guardianship for minor children. In most cases, a written will is required to go through probate court.

The assets in the estate of an individual who died intestate without a will may be subject to the laws of the state and will also pass through probate court. If an individual dies with a written will, the probate court will oversee the distribution of assets according to their wishes.

Additionally, a written will can help to minimize additional costs and legal issues, as well as provide closure and direction for family members.


Nuncupative wills can be beneficial in specific circumstances, but they are not recognized in all states and are subject to strict requirements. It is strongly recommended that individuals create a written will with the guidance of an estate planning attorney, especially if they have complex financial situations or significant assets.

By taking the time to plan for the future, individuals can ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes and provide financial security for their loved ones after their passing. In conclusion, Nuncupative wills, also known as oral wills, can be an option for testamentary disposition in specific circumstances and jurisdictions.

However, they are subject to strict requirements, limitations, and not recognized in all US states. It is highly recommended that individuals create a formal, written will with the guidance of an estate planning attorney to ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes.

Additionally, with a written will, the probate court can oversee the distribution of assets according to individuals’ wishes. Proper estate planning can help provide financial security for loved ones and minimize additional costs and legal issues.

Ultimately, individuals should consult with an attorney to create an estate plan that reflects their unique situation and provides optimal direction for their assets.

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