Punctuation in Wills

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    At head office we often receive general questions from members of the public about Wills and the history behind some common practices. One that we have received a number of times relates to the use, or lack of use, of punctuation in Wills and trust documents.

    Punctuation was traditionally omitted in legal documents and this practise is continued by many Will and Trust drafters. Drafters prefer instead to use underlining or spacing to avoid the ordinary use of commas.

    The traditional exclusion rests on a precedent both ancient and authoritative. The bible itself, in the original Hebrew, lacks punctuation and even paragraph breaks are rare.

    Parliament has led the way to changing the use of punctuation by inserting full stops into the Conveyancing Act 1881 and commas began to creep into legislation in the Law of Property Act 1925. In lieu of punctuation the original style of writing used capitalisation of certain words. Some drafters capitalise the first two words of each paragraph however the introduction of paragraphs and numbering has led to the demise of this practice.

    Punctuation itself has two functions. It makes a document easier to read and can also convey meaning. The use in legal documents is usually only for the former so that the removal of the punctuation will not alter the meaning of the document.

    Lord Shaw suggests that punctuation is an aid, and no more than an aid, towards revealing the meaning of a text and excessive punctuation to convey meaning is also contrary to good prose style. Fowler’s Modern English Usage goes further to suggest that although ambiguities can be removed by punctuation an attempt to correct a faulty sentence by inserting stops usually portrays itself as a slovenly and ineffective way of avoiding the trouble of rewriting. Maybe it is this idea of ‘clarity without punctuation’ coupled with tradition that omits its usage in Wills.

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    Matt Walkden Will Writer

    About Matt Walkden

    I am a Professional Will Writer and I offer a small number of other products that complement my Will Writing such as Lasting Power of Attorneys (LPA’s), Fixed Price Estate Administration, often called Probate and some Property Products such as changing a family home from Joint owners to Tenants in Common.

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