Statute of Wills

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Statute of Wills

An early English Law that provided that all individuals who owned land were permitted to leave or devise two-thirds of their property to anyone by written will and testament, effective upon their death.

The Statute of Wills (32 Hen. 8, c. 1) gave to landowners in England the right to dispose of land through a written will. Before the Statute of Wills was enacted by the English Parliament in 1540, landowners did not have the right to determine who would become the new owner of the land upon their death. The inheritance of land was dependent on whether the deceased landowner was survived by a competent relative or descendant. Generally, if a landowner died with no relatives, the land reverted into the possession of the Crown. This reversion was called Escheat.

The Statute of Wills made it possible for a landholder to decide who would inherit the land upon his death. The statute was passed a mere four years after the Statute of Uses banned the practice of splitting the title to land to avoid paying royal fees associated with the property. The Statute of Wills was seen as a policy retreat by King Henry VIII, who faced tremendous opposition from landowners seeking relief from royal control of land.

Some of the procedures created by the Statute of Wills remain effective in modern law. The statute required that wills be in writing, that they be signed by the person making the will, or testator, and that they be properly witnessed by other persons. If any of these requirements was not met, the will could not be enforced in court. These requirements exist today in state law and are intended to ensure that wills are not fabricated and that the testator's intent is fulfilled.

Further readings

Kurtz, Sheldon F., and Herbert Hovenkamp. 2003. Cases and Materials on American Property Law. 4th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: Thomson/West.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The topics are intestacy, rights of the spouse and children, the statute of wills, revoking and changing wills, will components, estate property, interpretation, creating trusts, elements of a trust, trustee powers and duties, trust administration problems, and probate administration.
One suggestion of theirs, to validate testamentary instruments in 'functional compliance' (24) with the objectives of the statute of wills, went undeveloped in the article, and it remains unclear how far they would have favoured extending the principle.
Ones found to be testamentary in nature were void, unless they had been formalized according to the strictures of the state statute of wills. By contrast, those held inter vivos had only to satisfy the common law of gifts, the equitable doctrine of trusts, and the statute of frauds.
(62) The question at issue was whether the creation of these accounts violated the statute of wills because they were not executed with will formalities and were therefore included in the intestate share of the decedent's widow.
In some jurisdictions, the judicially-developed substantial compliance doctrine allows courts to waive minor, technical failures to comply with the statute of wills. (156) In several other jurisdictions, a statutory harmless error power grants courts leave to waive failures of formality altogether, where parties can produce clear and convincing evidence of donative intent.
(53) Courts could decide that a future gift should at least meet the statutory requirements of the Statute of Wills, especially if the gift could be finalized after the death of the donor.
"Is the statute of wills unclear on the question whether murderers may inherit?" [W]e cannot locate the unclarity of the text in the ambiguity or vagueness or abstraction of any particular word or phrase....
These include: that the Statute of Uses was "The Husband's Charter" to bar all dower for the future; that a motive force of the Statute of Wills was to restrain heiresses; that landowners were predisposed to overcome the common law rights of their daughters; that most widows lost their share of their husband's personal property in the seventeenth century, and ceased to be of any consequence in landowning by the end of the eighteenth; that by the eighteenth century female rights, and rights in succession and dower, were eliminated in practice by great landowners (pp.
Revocation by act derives from the English Statute of Frauds and the Statute of Wills.(19) In addition, Florida's revocation by act statute employs much of the same language as the English Statute of Frauds, namely burning, tearing, canceling, and obliterating.(20)
Inheritability of vested remainders was recognized in the time of Edward 1, and devisability was recognized with the Statute of Wills in 1540.
Notice in this regard that if lawmakers were to change the law of gifts to make anticipatory gifts revocable, then an anticipatory gift programmed to take effect upon the donor's death would become indistinguishable from a will, which of course requires full execution under the statute of wills. (185) Yet, the feature of revocability--or irrevocability--has no impact whatsoever upon a fact finder's ability to recover evidence of a given gratuitous transfer.
"Were it otherwise, the statute of wills would be virtually abolished." Sneed v.