Over these past 15 years I've studied most books on the topic of using Plain English in law. These include the greatest of modern legal writers, including Bryan Garner and others.
Like most people, I don't like reading legal materials that are full of legalistic language. The constant use of words like 'said' or 'shall' are just wrong writes the foremost expert in the field, Bryan Garner. He is the author of over 16 books in the field. Kenneth Adams agrees that legal language is needless convoluted. His book, Adams on Contract Drafting, is wonderful.
I've been practising estates law, using both the living trust and last will and testament, for about 27 years in the field (in Lexington since 2002). And, given my sole focus in this area and my interest in plain English, my work reflects my background.
Our documents are plainER, not exactly plain
However, because some of our documents have nuanced legal provisions, those parts of the documents are not perfectly clear on the first reading. Or easy to understand.
So, maybe 'plainER' better term than 'plain' describes our work.
These tax provisions are needed in some documents because Massachusetts continues to have an estate tax. And many of our clients own more than $1 million when they add up the parts of their estate.
Because your MA estate tax base includes all you own, in any form. This includes residence, IRAs, 403(b), life insurance, and other assets. In a nutshell, we have a need for some less than simple language in some of our documents.
However, apart from these special provisions, I work hard to eliminate much of the needless words that make reading legal documents difficult - and nearly impossible. Even for us fellow attorneys.
And, I find that working in this particular urban locale (Boston and surrounding areas) that more and more people want to understand how their estate planning works. Particularly those whom live and work in the greater Boston area, such as Lexington, MA where higher educational levels are common. (And the nearby localities of Winchester, Belmont, Waltham, Lincoln, Bedford, Concord, Burlington, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Cambridge, Boston, Somerville, and Watertown, MA).
Lawyers use different approaches in their drafting of trust, wills, and other estate planning documents. Here are some thoughts on revocable living trusts for residents near us in Lexington, MA, where I live and work.
Plain English, not legalese: I've worked to reduce unnecessary words in our documents. Every day when I write letters to clients and other people I work hard to edit, and then edit again, each time to write more directly and simply.
For example, I've eliminated the words 'said' 'heretofore' and 'herewith'. These words - and similar ones - get in the way when we read. Using them can reduce the effectiveness of our documents.
Unfortunately - if reading is more difficult - it's more likely that you just won't read the document. If you don't fully read the document because it is utterly boring and difficult to understand then this can easily lead to not knowing what the document legally does.
I (usually) don't use two or three wordswhen one word nicely does the job. I'd rather not use the same word in English and in French, just because lawyers did this in England --- hundreds of years ago.
Active, not passive wording: I prefer to write sentences that has a person taking an action, rather than having something happen to the person. I seek to avoid the typical convoluted legal wording. It is not easy and sometimes I fail - but I try not to.