What is an Oral will?

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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2020
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An oral will, also known as a nuncupative will, is a verbal account of a person's wishes for property distribution after his or her death. This document is similar to written will, except in spoken fashion. This type of will is not ordinarily used because it can only be utilized by certain people in specific circumstances before their death. In addition, there are limits to who can act as a witness to this will, to where this type of will can be used, and to the type of property given. Oral wills also have a potential to create controversy due to the possibility of fraud.

Many countries do not recognize the validity of an oral will, and even within some countries only certain regions recognize its legal effect. For example, only some jurisdictions within the U.S. allow oral wills. Generally, an oral will can only be prepared by a soldier going into battle who does not have time to create a written will or as a dying declaration by a person on his or her deathbed.


Most laws stipulate that an oral must be witnessed and be put into writing afterward. A legal witness is constituted as a disinterested party, that is, an individual who has no involvement with the property being distributed. Some laws require two witnesses with corroborating accounts of the oral will. In order to make this will final, it must also be put into writing and filed by a lawyer within a certain amount of time after the person's death.

In addition to limits on what countries or regions allows an oral will, some jurisdictions place further limits on the noncupative will. Generally, only certain types of property can be bequeathed using an oral will. Jurisdictions have adopted different legal criteria, but limitations may pertain to money, real estate, or other types of property.

Because this document is not written down at the time of its creation, an oral will may be subject to legal challenge. Validity is often the biggest area of contention. Because it is only spoken and may be executed under under at best harsh or informal conditions, an oral will carries a high possibility of fraud or ambiguity. The deceased's final wishes may or may not be accidentally or intentionally misunderstood. As a result, this type of will may have difficulty being enforced if it is challenged by the deceased person's family.


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