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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.


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

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