The information found in wills usually includes details, such as, where the person who died lived and the name of the executor who is the person responsible for carrying out the wishes of the testator. You’ll likely find the date of the will along with details of any witnesses to the signing and the chief beneficiaries.
Family secrets are often uncovered in a will and provide one last opportunity for someone to settle old scores, or may even reveal the existence of an illegitimate offspring.
“William Shakespeare, who was born (and died) on 23 April, famously bequeathed his ‘second-best bed’ to his wife Anne Hathaway in his will, dated just a few weeks before he died in 1616. Digitised copies of Shakespeare’s will, part of a record series selected for the celebrity of the testators, can be searched and downloaded online” at the British National Archives at Kew in England.
The British National Archives also has available online more than one million digitized wills, dated 1384–1858, from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.
These wills are registered copies of the original probate records written into volumes by the clerks of the church courts with the majority written on printed forms accepted as valid by the Admiralty. Click Search and download the wills now to take a look at what’s available.
Listed below are links to interesting information on the subject including wills of the famous:
- There are research guides on how to look for wills
- Listen to podcast about wills
- Read the blog about forged wills
- Buy books about wills from the online bookshop
- See images of literary figures including Shakespeare whose birthday and death is today April 23
- Click on Shakespeare’s will to see the document and see what’s in it. He signed it 3 times.
- Click on Famous Wills to see more.
- You can browse through all the famous wills. They are indexed by first and last name, and by date of probate. Author Jane Austin’s will is available.