Plain English for Lawyers

That is the title of a book I studied in law school. Richard C. Wydick wrote it, or, if I were a “better” lawyer I would have written that sentence “It was written by the author Richard C. Wydick.” See the difference.

I finished a book, Coolidge by Amity Shales, this summer on President Calvin Coolidge. Many people know little about President Coolidge except for his nickname, Silent Cal. His name is misleading. He was not silent. He was just someone who expressed himself succinctly. He was also a lawyer.

In any event, Coolidge did not use two words when one was sufficient. For example, he once remarked upon passing a certain dress shop, “If you ever get married, don’t let your wife buy anything in there. My wife goes in there and it costs me a lot of money.” His life was one of simplicity and efficiency. His will was one sentence long. It read, “I, Calvin Coolidge, leave all my property real, personal and mixed to my wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, in fee simple forever.” Shorter wills have been sustained in Tennessee courts.

I met with a couple a few weeks ago who had a revocable living trust. It was about 15 years old and about 30 pages in length. I asked the couple if they had read it, thoroughly. Without hesitation, they admitted they had not. The husband stated that he reckoned the lawyer who prepared it must have charged by the word because it was fairly expensive. I knew he was joking – or at least half-joking. Several weeks later when we were signing their documents, they remarked that the trust I prepared, which was only 7 pages long, was so much simpler and easy to understand. I answered all their questions in about 30 minutes and they remarked that felt good that their estate planning affairs were done right.

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