Simple Wills and Lawyer Lingo

Most clients I meet with regarding their Will start the conversation saying something like: “This is really just a ‘simple Will’”. From that, I’m supposed to expect that everything in their estate will be “routine”. I can tell you from having met with many clients, that their “normal” or “routine” is likely anything but. Each family circumstance is different. Sometimes there is divorce and remarriage. There are blended families. Some have disabled children or spouses. Every client has a unique collection of assets and liabilities. Often they don’t know what they’ve got. In most instances, they’ve already set up some advanced planning through beneficiary designations on such assets as life insurance, IRA’s, and annuities. Each choice has tax implications. It is up to the estate planning lawyer to “unscramble the eggs.” Your lawyer will try to identify the key relationships and understand the assets and liabilities and the structure of existing planning before beginning to propose solutions.

So, why do lawyers have to use such complex language? Have you ever looked at an architectural drawing? Say you have the concept for a home or building design. Perhaps you sketch it on a piece of paper. It exists primarily in your mind. Would you consider taking that sketch to your city’s planning department for a permit? You would instead hire a licensed designer or architect to render proper blueprints, with all the angles, measurements, instructions and specifics that will satisfy the building codes and the authorities. At the bottom of the document will be the professional’s seal assuring it meets those requirements. You count on that person or firm to translate your idea or sketch into a true building plan that will reflect not only your wishes, but the legal and construction requirements that will assure it passes and gets built. Lawyers don’t do technical drawing, but they do technical writing. The law of Wills is a thousand years old. State codes have lengthy requirements and are constantly being modified. Add to that hundreds of cases over the years where judges have interpreted and applied minute scrutiny to every clause, indeed each word to understand the intent of the deceased person. By the time the Will is presented to a judge and your heirs, you won’t be alive to explain yourself. Instead, you rely on your lawyer to have fully grasped your intent, and to have translated that into legal language that will stick, especially if it is challenged. That accounts for all the “lawyer lingo” and why your “simple Will” likely will be several pages long.

The best defense against unintended results or Will contests is a properly drafted, legally binding Will. Your lawyer will spend time to understand your wishes and to prepare the paperwork that will make it happen. Take time to ask your questions when you have a chance to look over the documents. These are some of the most important documents you will ever prepare – having an effect long after you are gone. So please, get it done right, and don’t be surprised if it contains some “Lawyer Lingo.”

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