Using a State's "Statutory" Will

In a few states, you may run across a simple fill-in-the-blanks form will provided by the state. They're not common, primarily because they are so inflexible.

A few states offer very basic fill-in-the-blanks wills for their residents to use. Because the terms of these wills are set out in the state statutes, they’re called statutory wills. Currently, only California, Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin have statutory wills.

If you’re an executor in one of these states, you’re not likely to be dealing with a statutory will. Because the wills offer very little flexibility, few people use them.

Typical Provisions

The idea behind a statutory will is a good one: provide a simple will that people can prepare themselves, without going to a lawyer. Unfortunately, the wills are so simple, and so inflexible, that they just don’t work for very many people. After a few states adopted them, it became obvious that they weren’t particularly useful, and other states declined to follow suit.

A typical statutory will assumes that the will-maker wants to leave everything to his or her spouse (or domestic partner) or children. The forms do allow the will-maker to leave gifts to other beneficiaries. For example, the Wisconsin form includes this clause:

"2.1.  PERSONAL, RECREATIONAL AND HOUSEHOLD ITEMS.  Except as provided in paragraph 2.2, I give all my furniture, furnishings, household items, recreational equipment, personal automobiles and personal effects to my spouse, if living; otherwise they shall be divided equally among my children who survive me." [Paragraph 2.2 lets the will-maker leave some gifts of specific items or amounts of money to others.]

Similarly, the Maine statutory will starts with the presumption that real estate will to go the will-maker’s spouse or children unless the will-maker says otherwise:

"2.1. REAL PROPERTY. I give all my real property to my spouse, if living; otherwise it shall be equally divided among my children who survive me; except as specifically provided below:"
The wills also let the will-maker name a guardian to raise young children if necessary and name an executor (personal representative) to handle the estate.

Probating a Statutory Will

Conducting a probate proceeding for someone who used a statutory will shouldn’t be any different from conducting any other probate. Like any other will, to be valid, a statutory will must be signed by two adult witnesses who don’t stand to inherit under the will. The wills come with signing instructions.

Usually, a statutory will is valid if the blanks are filled in with a typewriter, on a computer, or in the will-maker’s handwriting. If a section is left blank, in most cases that’s okay, too—it doesn’t invalidate any other part of the will.

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