Statutory Wills

Some states provide simple, free wills that any state resident can use. But there is usually a better choice.

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Statutory wills are wills created by a state legislature and written into state law.  Residents of the state may use these wills at no cost, however will makers must use them exactly as they are written, filling in the blanks with their own information.

What is the difference between a “regular will” and a statutory will?

The text of a traditional will is tailored to the will maker’s needs, while the text of a statutory will cannot be altered.  With a statutory will, you simply take the will that the state provides, and fill in your information.

Pros and cons of statutory wills

There are three significant benefits to using a statutory will:

  • Access.  It’s free to use a statutory will and anyone can use one.
  • Familiarity. Because the document is written by the state, it will be familiar to the probate court and if you follow the instructions, it is very unlikely that anyone would be able to challenge the will based on the language it uses.
  • Simplicity. To use a statutory will, you don’t need to hire a lawyer or find a do-it-yourself resource.  You can simply copy the language of will out of the statutes paste it into a word document, fill in the blanks, and follow the instructions for signing and witnessing. Or even easier, you can usually find a version on the internet that you can just print out, fill out, and sign.

There is one huge disadvantage to using a statutory will:  you cannot tailor it to your situation.  Statutory wills are simple, one-size-fits-all documents.  You take it as it’s written and cannot change the language or add clauses to suit your needs.  As a result, they rarely work perfectly for anyone. 

Should I use a statutory will?

Statutory wills are most useful for those who want or need a very simple, straightforward will.  The state legislatures who have created statutory wills did so to provide a no-cost estate planning tool that anyone can use.  But because the wills are so simple they should rarely be a first choice will for anyone. 

Use a statutory will:

  • In an emergency.  If you realize you need a will as immediately and don’t have time to hire a lawyer, a statutory will may be better than no will at all.  For example, if you realize that you want a will the night before you leave for a big trip, you can use a statutory will to create a legal will in just few minutes. (You must still have the will witnessed.)
  • If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer or buy a do-it-yourself product.  If money is tight and you can’t afford to pay for a will, then the statutuory will may be a good option for you.  Realize, however, you can make a more tailored will for less than $75.
  • If your state’s statutory will reflects your wishes.  If you’re wishes are very simple – say, you want everything to go to your spouse with no exceptions – and you find that the statutory will is able to accommodate your wishes exactly, then you may not need a more complex will.

In any case, read the statutory will carefully and make sure you understand what effect it will have on your property when you die.  The last thing you want is to create a will that does not reflect your wishes. An ill-fitting will could be worse than not having a will at all.  (Read more about dying without a will Nolo’s Will FAQ).

Does my state have a statutory will?

Only a few states provide statutory wills.  They are: California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.  If your state does not have a statutory will, you should not use one from another state.  Instead, find a you-it-yourself product that fits your needs.

To learn more about making a will yourself, see Using a Will Template. And to learn more about wills in general, go to the Wills section of Nolo.com

 

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