I get this question fairly often from slightly baffled and even frustrated clients who have tried to read through their Wills and found they get stuck on some of the wording. After all, they reason, this is my Will, shouldn’t it just say what I want in simple terms?! And I feel for them!
Let me start by saying that we do my best to make our Wills as reader friendly as possible. None of the old “thou’s” and “hereinbefores” will be found. We also always send a guide with our Wills which explains what some of the more common and often misunderstood clauses mean. We are always happy to go through Wills clause by clause with clients if they wish. We want clients to be comfortable with their documents when they sign them.
Even so, Wills are often not straightforward documents and there is a very good reason why. The reality is, if we drafted your Will only in plain “everyday” English, we would not be doing our duty to you. Most clients consider their Will to be a personal document, something that reflects their wishes. But as much as this is true, a Will is even more so a legal document.
Our duty to you is to make sure your Will stands up to the legal rigours of Probate, estate administration and, most importantly, any potential challenge. To do this, it has to be a particularly worded legal document. I remember learning in my first week in law school that one reason legal language is so difficult is because ‘legal-ese’ takes words that have one meaning in normal English and assigns them more complex or even different legal meanings. And it is true!
The law has evolved to have its own language which acts as “legal shortcuts”. Often there are phrases in legal documents (including Wills) which have been considered by Courts and agreed upon to have a particular meaning or effect. The word “trust” is a perfect example. Trust in normal English has a deep but clear meaning, whereas the legal term “trust” is so complex that it warrants an entire semester of study in law school!
Lawyers prepare Wills for a reason. We do not over-complicate them to justify our fees or to make them somehow inaccessible. I have carefully considered every word of the precedents we use for our Wills and we just as carefully adjust them for every client. So you can be reassured that when we prepare your Will, it is strong and it is legally cogent- and we’re always happy to take you through it.