Using Statutory Will Forms

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

By , Attorney

Statutory wills are wills created by a state legislature and written into state law. Residents of a state that has a statutory will may use it at no cost. But will makers must use them exactly as written and may only fill in the blanks with their own information. (And never use a statutory will from another state because it might not comply with your state's laws.)

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 can't be altered. With a statutory will form, you simply take the form 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. If you follow the instructions, it's 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 the will from the statutes and paste it into a 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. (But make sure that that the version you find matches the statutory form word for word.)

There's one huge disadvantage to using a statutory will: you can't tailor it to your situation. Statutory wills are simple, one-size-fits-all documents. You take it as it's written and can't 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 Form?

Statutory will forms are most useful for those who want or need a very simple, straightforward will. The state legislatures who 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 for anyone.

Use a statutory will form:

  • In an emergency. If you realize you need a will immediately and don't have time to hire a lawyer, a statutory will might 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 a few minutes. (You must still have the will witnessed.)
  • If you can't 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 statutory will might be a good option for you. Realize, however, that most do-it-yourself options aren't that expensive—and you'll end up with a will that's more tailored to your needs.
  • If your state's statutory will reflects your wishes. If your 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 might 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 doesn't reflect your wishes. An ill-fitting will could be worse than not having a will at all. (Read more about dying without a will.)

Does My State Have a Statutory Will Form?

Only a few states provide statutory will forms. They are: California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. If your state doesn't have a statutory will form, you shouldn't use one from another state. Instead, find a do-it-yourself product that fits your needs or work with a lawyer.

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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