When a person makes a last will and testament, he or she leaves a testate estate. Originally, a will devised (gave) real estate (or land) and property attached to it - buildings, mills, timber, water rights, etc. A testament bequeathed personalty (personal property) made up of movables (lump sums of money, books, jewelry, furniture, clothing, horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, grain, tools, slaves, services of indentured servants) and receivables (book debts, mortgages, bills of exchange, and loans). American laws generally leave a person free to distribute his or her estate at will as long as it does not leave the heirs dependent for their upkeep on the state.
Wills are of three kinds: (1) Attested wills are prepared in writing, signed by responsible witnesses who certify to the court that the will was written at the instance of the deceased of his of his or her own free will and choice and that he or she was of sound mind at the time. (2) Holographic wills are handwritten entirely by the person making the will, signed, dated, and not witnessed. If any other person writes on the will, it is invalid. In addition, the will must be found among the individual's important papers. It cannot be filed with an attorney or other third party unless all valuable papers are so filed. In some jurisdictions, this kind of will is not valid. (3) Nuncupative wills are oral, deathbed wills dictated to witnesses who convert them to writing at the earliest possible moment and present them to the court within a specified period of time after the person dies. In some jurisdictions, this kind of will is also invalid.
Taken from Eakle, Arlene H., "Research in Court Records" In The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997).