My Said Wife
It is so frightening to contemplate that most of us put it off for as long as possible, sometime forever: our Last Will and Testament.
What are we so afraid of? The loss of loved ones? Not being able to take it all with us? That dreaded transition from being to nothingness — or worse?
No, as forbidding as those matters are to dwell upon, there is something else. It is the turgid, redundant, legal prose that wills, judgments and codicils consist of, I hereby maintain, aver and asseverate. Yes, after all of the hereins, hithertos, and heretofores, the hereafter will be a breeze.
Before law students tackle Wills, Trusts and Estates, they must be required to take a course titled "Abusing the Thesaurus." Why else would a legal document be so laden, nay so morbidly obese, with extra words that mean the exact same thing as the four that preceded them? Indeed, the very term Last Will and Testament is prolix, containing two synonyms (necessitating an otherwise unnecessary conjunction) and a superfluous adjective.
My will went downhill from there. It states that I am of "sound mind, memory, and judgment" and that I "make, declare, and publish" said document to "give, bequeath, and devise" "the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate."
Besides making my will three times longer, such mumbo jumbo is misleading. It implies, for example, that a person could be of sound mind, while lacking both memory and judgment. This curious notion applies to politicians but not the rest of humanity.
Further along in this six-page treatise, my wife is referred to as "my said wife." Since I have always called her "the wife, " I just assumed that is how she would appear, complete with quotation marks, in my will. Actually and shockingly, after this first reference my wife is sometimes alluded to in spare non legal terms as "she." I hope such pithy composition doesn't get our lawyer disbarred.
Verbal prodigality in the legal profession, in and of itself, is not the greatest sin afoot in the world. And what with the numbers of barristers, lawyers and ambulance chasers (I think I've caught the bug!) multiplying like locusts at peak cycle, it probably pays to dot the i's and cross the t's. Who knows when an attorney, counselor or pettifogger might come along armed with subpoenas and gunning for loopholes? Still, as I waded deeper in the intractable morass of my LW&T, it became clear that this document was incomprehensible to said self, not to mention said wife and said son.
Attempting to read aloud one section, I fainted dead away from oxygen deprivation. This serpentine semantic marathon covered half a page, 225 words of subordinate, conditional and parenthetical clauses wrapped so tightly around the subject, verb and object that this vital trio could not be located with a sonogram.
Our lawyer graciously translated the entire aforementioned passage from the Black Lagoon: If my wife and I have children who die before we do, leaving grandchildren, separate trusts will be established to harbor their allotments until they reach 25. Mirabile dictu: a mere 27 words. Please note that in the lawyerly version, nowhere do the words children or grandchildren make an appearance. Had it turned out that we had left everything to Bashar al-Assad I would not have been startled in the least.
Toward the end of this tormented tract, I noticed several stylistic discrepancies, which, hereinbefore, had not appeared. A key word — "guardian" — was bereft of its tedious train of synonyms. What were the legal implications of failing to duplicate that term with "warden, steward, custodian, caregiver" et cetera ad nauseum? Could not a cagey relative decide that so-and-so might be entitled to be our son's guardian but that she was entitled, by default, to step in as warden and whatnot?
Then I read that the two obligatory witnesses to this satire were required to "subscribe and declare" only that "said Testator" (moi) "appeared" to them "to be of sound mind and memory." "Appeared"? I was deeply wounded by this. And what of my judgment? Perhaps I had lost it while reading my will. Could this gaping loophole, this Achilles heel, said ominous omission be used by greedy relatives to torpedo my LW&T?
What's more likely is that Noah Webster will haul our lawyer into court for conspiring to assassinate, kill and render lifeless the English language.
Before signing my arcane will-o'-the-wisp, I mentioned several of the aforementioned reservations to our solicitor. Why, I wanted to know, were there so many useless and baffling words in the document and often no trace of bon mots one would expect to find herein? For example, I said: "If all I possessed was a baseball glove, which I wanted to leave to my son, would the transaction necessitate six long legal pages? More importantly, would the term ‘baseball glove' appear anywhere therein?"
Our advocate looked at me as if I were crazy, daft and insane. I signed my LW&T quickly - before the two witnesses altered their opinion of my mental state.