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Welcome to the Trust Zone: The traps of the English language

Take everything you know about the English language and throw it out the window, you are about to enter the “Trust Zone.” The Trust Zone is an archaic place where we use centuries old concepts and language to express even the simplest idea. For example, in the Trust Zone you don’t leave your assets to your kids, but rather to your “issue.” Or you divide your assets “into as many shares as there are children then living and children then deceased leaving issue then living.” You see, I told you it was archaic.

The problem with estate planning is that language can be a tricky thing. And Trust language is trickier still. That’s because Orange County Trust and Will lawyers have a preset notion of what certain terms mean when used in a California Trust or Will. If you vary those terms, then things get confusing for us. And sometimes people create their own language without realizing that it is subject to multiple interpretations.

For example, I have seen in a handwritten Will a provision that says “my house goes to my sons, my wife can continue living there.” Well in the eyes of lawyers that language is contradictory and unclear. How long can wife live in the house? Who does the house belong to first, the sons or the wife? Can the wife live in the house for free, does she pay rent, what about property taxes, maintenance, and insurance?

Another example: “I leave my wife $2,000 per month, the rest of my estate goes 20% to wife, 20% to son, and 60% to daughter.” Does wife get $2,000 per month off-the-top or out of her 20%? Does everyone have to wait to get their share of the estate until wife dies and is no longer entitled to $2,000 per month? How long does the $2,000 per month get paid to wife?

This type of language leaves a lot to be argued over by the lawyers and there never is one right answer. Each side can pick apart the language and come up with an argument that fits their view. And in the end, it is up to the court to decide who gets what, which is always a tricky proposition.

The better approach is to stick to language that has been used successfully in the past. That brings us back to the archaic Trust Zone. The Trust Zone exists because the language has been used a million times with success, so it should work for you too.

At the very least, you should think about how each thing you saw is likely to play out after you’re gone. You may understand what you’re saying, but will everyone else understand it also?