So You Want A Plain English Will

If I had a dollar for every client who has asked me to “Please just write my will in plain English Fiona,” I’d have a few extra dollars a week to run through my accounting system.  

Plain English

"Whilst the language your will is written in doesn’t need to be decipherable to the untrained eye, the language you as the will maker and your lawyer communicate in is of the utmost importance..."

When people decide they want to update or reinvent their will one of the first things they do is go digging around in the bottom filing cabinet drawer for their previous will.

They pull out the envelope and invariably discover one of two things;

ONE:

There’s no will in there.  Just a booklet that should have been filled out to say where their will is actually being held.  Your guess is as good as mine who has that will - most people haven’t got a clue, which means it would be a miracle their executors would ever know.

Good thing they didn’t die!

Or TWO:

They find a copy of their will and about 2 clauses in throw their hands up in despair, because reading Legalese is like trying to decipher another language and it’s almost impossible to understand what in the heck on heck is going on.

I completely understand why people ask for a plain English will.  Afterall, deciphering and understanding your own wishes seems like a pretty baseline deliverable to me.

In fact so many people are so fixated on the idea of writing a plain English will that hundreds of online legal services have popped up offering just that.  Simple wills any Tom, Dick or Harriet can understand.

On one side of the coin we have a will that reads a close second to indecipherable gobbledygook and on the other we have a short, easy to read novella.

Which should you choose….?

The short answer is neither. The long answer is slightly more nuanced.

Here's the deal...

Wills are written in Legalese and not plain English, because wills are not written for people. They’re written for lawyers.

And yes, I’m bravely forging ahead with the thinly veiled suggestion lawyers aren’t actually people! (I’m joking of course. Kind of.)

Your will is not a creative writing project. It’s not an easily digestible quick read. It’s not designed to be read by you, or anyone else who communicates in normal, everyday, plain English.

Your will is a legal document. Full stop. End of story.  

Plain English wills, despite being easier for the everyday Joe to interpret, are notorious for falling down like a house of cards the minute even the slightest hint of legal pressure is put on them.

Because “plain English wills” more often than not lack the legal scaffolding they require.

The first purpose of your will is to communicate what you wish to happen to your assets when you die.

The second purpose of your will is to communicate your wishes to the big-wigs at the Supreme Court - which is somewhat like a coven and somewhat like the third ring of hell - either way the only language the ihabitants of the Supreme Court speak is  Legalese.

Now nobody writes a will thinking it will go up against the scrutiny of the Supreme Court (especially not me because incase you haven't picked up on it already, I'm not a fan).  But like it or not the KPI of a legal document is that it will stand up to the ultimate legal scrutiny.

For many lawyers that’s ALL they think about when drawing up a will.  What you want is barely a consideration - it’s all about arse covering and box ticking, so if your will goes to litigation it will pass muster.  Many a client’s family has been blindsided by a dodgy clause that’s been hidden under reams of impossible to decipher Legalese by a butt covering lawyer.

Does that mean you don't need to know what's in your will?

“So I shouldn’t expect to actually know what my will says….?” Simon quite rightly grilled me when we met a few weeks ago.

Nothing could be further from the truth, for you or Simon.

Whilst the language your will is written in doesn’t need to be decipherable to the untrained eye, the language you as the will maker and your lawyer communicate in is of the utmost importance (at least it is to me).

Here’s how it works…

We have a plain English conversation about what you want to happen after your death; what you’re trying to achieve, what you hope for, what you want to avoid, who your trying to punish or reward, who or what you’ve forgotten to tell people, where you want your money, your memories and your stuff to go…

Questions feature prominently in plain English conversations - which is great because asking questions means I get all the information that’s important.

I then take our plain English conversation and I put my interpreter hat on.  I take all your information away and turn it into Legalese (as if by magic, but not!).  TaDa!  We have a will!

Sometimes we have to go backwards and forwards to find just the right Legalese phrasing to fully paint the picture of what it is you want to do.

Sometimes you communicate with me (in plain English) something you want to do, and rather than just sticking that in your will and dealing with the fall out when it doesn’t stand up to interrogation, I interpret back the other way and tell you it’s not legally possible to do achieve the thing you want.

Most importantly once your will is written I go through it with you and interpret every single clause so you can share it with your family in a way they will also understand.

No confusing language. No hidden clauses. No secrets.

Strong Wills are written in Legalese but are built on conversations in plain English.

Click the link below to book an appointment to talk in English and create a strong will.

Brave is kind.

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