Statutory Will: What Does it Mean?

Several different types of wills exist that detail the distribution of assets after a  death. These include handwritten wills, typewritten wills, attorney-prepared wills, and statutory wills. Statutory wills are standardized forms that follow the language contained in a state’s  laws. The testator completes the form by filling in the blanks. As such, the goal of this will is to streamline the process and remove the complexity and cost, making writing wills more accessible to all.

What is a Statutory Will?

A statutory will is a simple generalized form created by a state legislature and written into state law. The testator fills in the blanks in these forms, giving them a simple and cost-effective way to write a legally binding document guaranteed to be accepted by a probate court. These statutory wills need to be complete with the same formalities as regular wills, including signing and dating them in front of witnesses. Once made, it is as legally binding as a regular will.

It is important to note that not all states have statutory will legislation; they are only available in California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. Moreover, there is no universal approach to its structure. As such, state’s statutory wills are distinct from one another and vary on a state-by-state basis.

What are the Components of a Statutory Will?

Put simply, statutory wills detail who receives all assets following a person’s death. As such, their main components consist of the different types of assets, leaving blank spaces for the testator to choose which family members or others will act as beneficiaries and receive their property, money, personal items, and other assets. However, as they lack a universal structure, the components vary slightly from state to state. Here is a look at the components of three statutory will forms for some of the states:

  • California: As per section 6240-6243 of the California Probate Code, California statutory wills are split into four sections: (1) personal residence, (2) automobiles, household, and personal effects, (3) specific cash gifts, and (4) balance of assets.
  • Michigan: The division of assets in the Michigan statutory will form splits into the following provisions: (1) cash gifts to persons or charities, (2) personal and household items, and (3) all other assets. 
  • Wisconsin: As per Wisconsin law, the Wisconsin statutory will form divides into the following components: (1) personal representative, and (2) disposition of property.
  • Florida: In this state, the person can write the Florida statutory will to distribute its personal, real property or other assets in condition if the witnesses are present at the time of signing.
  • Illinois: Illinois also has a form of Illinois statutory will that testators can use to draft how they want to disperse their funds or assets. Those include not only personal or real property, but also digital assets.

These documents also have sections detailing who the testator wishes to serve as a guardian and conservator for a child under 18. The subtle differences in category division and layout mean the flexibility of the wills varies from state to state.

When are Statutory Wills Needed?

Since statutory wills are simplified and more generalized versions of regular wills,  people looking to make a will in a hurry typically need them. Individuals use them if they do not have time to either write a will of their own or appoint a lawyer to do it for them. Additionally, since an individual can complete a will alone and without the help of a lawyer, people who cannot afford to pay for legal advice surrounding the division of their assets frequently use them.

What is a Non-Statutory Will?

While statutory wills follow the state’s will requirements, non-statutory wills do not precisely follow these guidelines. However, jurisdictions may still accept non-statutory wills assuming the legal document does not directly conflict with the state statute. It is best to speak with a lawyer if wishing to make a more complex will. This will ensure the document does not contradict state laws and is valid in probate court.

How Do I Apply for a Statutory Will?

For anyone wishing to make a statutory will, you can easily do so by obtaining a copy of your state’s statutory will form from the State Bar Association or the legislature website. Simply download the form from the website and print it out. You can then complete the form, choosing which people you wish to be beneficiaries. No parts of the form can be crossed out or altered to add additional information; this could invalidate the document.

Once happy with your allocation of assets, you need to sign the form along with two adult witnesses. These witnesses must attest that the testator is of sound mind. Without this, the document is not legally binding. However, the will is not legally effective until death, and it’s possible to add amendments to this existing will until this point.

Also read:Can a Beneficiary Sue a Trustee?

When someone dies, the person typically leaves behind a trust or a will. To divide or use the assets as per the instructions in the tr...

Who Can Apply for a Statutory Will?

To create a statutory will, you need to be older than 18 and have sufficient mental capacity, also known as testamentary capacity, to make informed decisions and understand their impact. The person needs to understand the consequences of signing a will, details of the property and estate they own, and the details of their spouse, children, other close relatives, and friends.

You can also only use the statutory will form of the state if you are a resident there. For example, only people living in California can use the California Statutory Will form. If there is no standardized form in your state, do not use one from another state. Because each is based on statutory legislation within each jurisdiction, the document is not legally binding if used in a U.S. state other than for where it was intended.

How Much Does a Statutory Will Cost?

Statutory wills are free to use, giving state residents access to affordable will writing with peace of mind that the legal document is valid. However, although the forms themselves come at no cost and are self-explanatory, many people choose to meet with an estate planning lawyer to go through the details. However, if you choose to do so, you must pay for the legal work completed.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Statutory Wills

There are both advantages and disadvantages of statutory wills and so may suit some people or situations more than others. In terms of the benefits, the main advantage is that these wills are much simpler than regular ones and less expensive. As such, there is a lesser chance of violating state requirements than there would be when writing your own will, which could make it invalid. Additionally, as a fill-in-the-blank form, these wills are much easier to work with and can be completed without a lawyer’s help. They’re also more easily obtainable and, so, are convenient. Therefore, statutory wills are great for people who:

  • Are short in time and need a will immediately;
  • Cannot afford to hire a lawyer to write a will on the individual’s behalf;
  • Have the same requirements as those laid out in the form.

However, the simplicity of a statutory will is also its main downfall. Because it is a standardized will, it may not cover all the testator’s needs and could leave gaps in covering the estate. Moreover, statutory wills are not allowed in all U.S. states, so there is a chance they are unacceptable in your jurisdiction. If this will is made and the state does not accept this type of will, it can lead to legal issues further down the line. Therefore, if any of the following factors apply, a statutory will may not be the best option:

  • Have assets worth more than $600,000;
  • Own business-related assets;
  • Wish to create a trust or fund for their children;
  • Own assets in multiple U.S. states.

Conclusions

Although not available in all U.S. states – only California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin – statutory wills provide an easy and affordable way to draft a will quickly. It also gives the testator peace of mind that the will is a valid legal document that will stand in probate court. However, they are standardized forms and may not fit all situations. In these cases, it is best to contact an estate planning attorney to draft a personal will suited to these individual needs. 

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