A nice day today, eh?
Plain English in MA Estate Planning
There's a crisis of inattention in the modern world. We're all surrounded by electronic devices that sound off continually, requiring - or seeming to require - our immediate attention.
Ernest Hemingway once said in an interview, "You can write anytime people will leave you alone and not interrupt you." It's true. If you're a writer, you must arrange time when people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. The biggest key to writing is to apply your seat to the chair, when nobody else is around, and to write.
Having nobody else around includes silencing your smartphone and turning off popup notifications. A real writer needs time to contemplate and compose in silence."
Bryan Garner, https://www.lawprose.org/lawprose-lesson-317-writing-in-solitude/
Lawyers are notorious for poor writing
To be honest, we attorneys were trained in law by reading endless law cases. Nothing but case after case of complicated sentences. Full of needless words and phrases.
Later, when predecessors or we write or speak to clients in the same style, the public has complained. It bores them to tears. It's been going on for centuries.
Yet, for decades, legal scholars and some attorneys have also complained. But to little avail. Lawyers who take plain English seriously are in the minority. Most just don't care. Or even see the problem.
Let me say: You don't need convoluted legal documents. Full of legal jargon. There is another approach. This alternative approach is plain English.
If you'd like to speak with us, contact us and we'll get back to you. I promise.
I've been reading about the plain English subject for 15+ years. Studying it (and the law of wills and trusts) daily.
As I practice law, I work to improve my native skills. (Maybe all writers feel the same.)
Like most people, I don't enjoy reading legal documents that need a good, serious edit to be more readable.
About plain English
Bryan Garner is the leading advocate for a change to a more direct writing style. He's an attorney and author.
Bryan has written over 20 books. His newest is 'Garner's Guidelines for Drafting & Editing Contracts.' I loved it and read it from cover to cover. Because a will or trust is almost a contract.
Another book I enjoyed was Kenneth Adams' 'Adams on Contract Drafting.'
For example: One category gives a person a power to do something (the language of 'authorization').
Another category places a legal duty on someone (the language of 'obligation'). And so on.
The author advises the attorney/writer to be aware of what they want to say and use the correct type of language category.
Want to improve your own estate planning for your family? Learn more at 7 Questions to Test the Strength of Your Estate Plan
My documents are plainER, not plain
I work hard to make my writing as clear as possible. This takes as much time I can find to edit and edit again. Early in the a.m. for me. It's now 4:35 a.m.
All the writers say that editing is key. The first draft doesn't make it. Not even close.
And because some legal documents contain intricate tax or trust law clauses, you the reader may need to re-read something. Unfortunately.
But the writing should contain at least a second or third edit.
In sum, these type of legal documents need both tax and non-tax written provisions. Not the easiest things to deal with.
Tax provisions: Massachusetts and U.S. continue to have an estate tax. While the U.S. estate tax exemption is $11.7 million (2021), the MA exemption is much lower, at $1 million. Your taxable estate includes all you own, in any form. Your estate includes a house, IRAs, 403(b), life insurance, and other assets. There is no income tax on life insurance, I know. But it ends up in your taxable estate.
Nontax provisions: People live many different situations. All unique. When they die, they leave different situations behind. And so their wishes may differ from one another and this takes detail. With the background of law forcing some things to be said that are not obvious to those not trained in this legal area.
So, we need more complex language for some documents. And 'plainER' may better describe some documents.
To cut many needless words. Words that make reading legal documents difficult - sometimes impossible. People want better documents.
"Only by long practice can you express yourself clearly, attractively, and sincerely. Those are the eternal qualities of good speech and writing: lucidity, euphony, and sincerity.
Bryan Garner, LawProse Lesson #340, Discipline in Writing.
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I'm Joel Bernstein, an estate planning attorney with over 30 years of experience. I use plain English to help you understand wills, trusts, and the other documents you need to protect your loved ones and your estate.
Most middle-aged people aren’t ready for their inevitable death. We make estate planning simple, affordable, and quick. So people can live in peace, knowing their affairs are in order.