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Yes, Good Lawyers DO Use Standardized Forms

There was a question on from someone who was surprised and concerned that he and his girlfriend had wills that were identical, even though they were drafted by lawyers from opposite ends of the state. Other lawyers who answered the question seemed to be saying that the lawyers who used such cookie-cutter forms were not very professional. I strongly disagree. Here is what I wrote:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Standard forms are usually the product of a lot of field testing and revision over the years, and lawyers are very conservative about sticking with language that works, that holds up in court and effectively carries out what clients want. If you were both doing similar things with your wills at the time, it makes sense that they used uniform tools and parts. 

Besides software, there are other sources of forms that are widely used within any particular state. Here in Virginia, there are popular Continuing Legal Education seminars and manuals that provide forms for lawyers to use. We also had a leading bank in our state that made will and trust forms available for lawyers. 

By using the standard language and not messing with it, the lawyer can ensure that the will will put the client's wishes into effect without running afoul of all kinds of obscure rules and traps that have come up in the approximately 750-year history of Anglo-American inheritance law. 

And by keeping things in the same order, with the same numbering system, the lawyer can get to know the form intimately, and when a client asks about the meaning or origins of a particular provision, the lawyer can tell them, without finding their individual file. 

Of course, not every will is exactly the same. It is not one-size-fits-all. We work with SETS of forms, and any one form will include optional language that we select from. But they are designed so that you can make these changes with as little customization as possible. The more things you have to change or custom-draft, the more things can get screwed up. 

Personally, I think my wills don't look exactly like anyone else's -- I have adapted the common Virginia form set that I use, translating it into plainer English, but that is an extremely delicate operation -- it's far better not to attempt it, than to try it and screw it up in some way that might not be discovered for decades.


Monster beats

I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand.

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