Plain Language Standard

Clear legal documents give clear legal authority

Person in orange sleeves signing a document

Naming a power of attorney means someone else can make decisions for you if you can’t | Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

We all hope we’ll always be able to make our own decisions about our finances and property. But what if we can’t?

Anyone can lose the ability to deal with their affairs through accident or illness. If nobody has the legal authority to act for you or sign documents, dealing with your affairs can be difficult and stressful for you and your family.

A durable power of attorney allows you to give someone the legal power to deal with your affairs and make decisions for you. Setting up a power of attorney means that you control who manages your affairs.

Building a library of free-to-use legal resources

The Kimble Center for Legal Drafting, based at Western Michigan University–Cooley Law School in the US, specialises in writing easy-to-understand legal documents. Their mission is to produce clear legal documents that are free for the public to use in Michigan.

The Kimble Center has published a new Power of Attorney document. People can use it to name someone they trust to make decisions about their finances if they’re not able to.

Reaching the high standard of the WriteMark Plus

The new Power of Attorney follows the pattern of the earlier Power of Attorney for My Health Care. And it has been assessed as meeting the WriteMark criteria for purpose, structure, content, language, and design.

Eventually the Power of Attorney for My Finances also achieved the WriteMark Plus Plain Language Standard. The WriteMark Plus combines an elements-based assessment with user-testing. The results of user-testing led to further fine-tuning of the content.

Clear legal documents give clear legal authority WriteMark

Design elements guide the user through the document | Image by Gusto Design

Using careful design to support the purpose of the document

The Kimble Center engaged the team at Gusto Design to create a design that would support clarity and accessibility.

Annette Ellis, Creative Director at Gusto, explains:

Once again, we worked with the Kimble Center for Legal Drafting to make a complex process clear and easy to understand. The plain language used in the Power of Attorney form is visually supported using design elements that guide the user through the form, making it easy for users to understand and fill out the required information.

Instructions are provided as shaded boxes adjacent to the form fields, providing users with additional information that helps them understand how to fill out the form correctly. This extra guidance is critical to ensure the form accurately captures their wishes.

The form is screen-readable, and it has fillable fields that make it extra easy to use.

Clear legal documents give clear legal authority WriteMark

Clear design is critical to ensure the form accurately captures the user’s wishes | Image by Gusto Design

Creating legal documents with a difference

With its plain language and simple design, the Power of Attorney for My Finances joins its health-care companion as a legal document unlike most others.

Joseph Kimble, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at WMU–Cooley Law School, explains:

These two powers of attorney — one for medical decisions and the other for financial decisions — are unlike any legal document you are used to seeing. Both have been tested with users, and both of them are about as user-friendly as they can be.

The lesson? Legal documents do not have to be impenetrable to ordinary readers.

‘Clear and easy to read’

Achieving the WriteMark Plus gives the Kimble Center and users of their document library extra assurance that the document is as clear as it can be.

In this case, user-testing participants had lots of praise for the document. Here are a few of their comments:

It’s clear and it’s easy to read.

The layout and design of the document is clear and easy to read. It’s a five out of five. Lovely!

This certainly is concise, clear layman terms to tell them what the intended use is and then how to use it.

How easily explained each section of it is … I think it was really, really well designed and very self-explanatory. And just really nicely laid out and easily understandable.

Joseph Kimble enjoyed working with the teams at Write and Gusto.

This is the second project on which the Kimble Center for Legal Drafting has teamed with Write and Gusto. Both are a joy to work with. They deliver on time, and their editing and design work is superb.


Find out more about WriteMark Plus — the ultimate in communication excellence

The Kimble Center for Legal Drafting paves the way for innovative legal documents. This article on the Center’s website describes its origins and goals.