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Old English In Terrorem (No Contest) Provisions Brought the Wrath of God into Wills

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

“In Terrorem” provisions, also called “no contest” provisions, are included in Wills to prevent legatees who are unhappy with their share of an estate from challenging a Will. In Terrorem provisions do this by stating that if the legatee challenges the Will without cause, he or she receives nothing.

The following In Terrorem provision was used in the Will of Wolgith in 1046. Today, In Terrorem clauses do not include language invoking eternal damnation:

He that bereaves my will, which by God’s permission I have now made, let him be bereaved of these earthly joys; and may the Almighty Lord — cut him off from all holy men’s communion in Doomsday; and be he delivered to Satan, the Devil and all his cursed companions to hell’s bottom, and there be tortured, with those whom God has cast off or forsaken, without intermission, and never trouble my heirs.

And in the original Old English:

beryaui þe hic nu biqueþen habbe. a Godes ywitnesse; beryaued he worþe þises erthliche mergþes and ashiregi hine se almigti drigten. þe alle shepþe yshop. and ywrogte. vram alre halegene ymennesse. on domesday. and sy he bytagt Satane þane diefle. and alle his awargede yueren into helle grunde. and þer aquelmi mid Godes wiþsaken bute ysuyke and mine irfnumen neuer ne asuenche þisses is to ywitnesse Edward king and manie oþre.