Get It In Writing!

By J.C. Bailey

Some of the saddest and most “messed up” cases I have ever confronted could have been avoided with some wise counsel, a small amount of ink and some paper. Communication has always been a challenge and personal integrity and character are in short supply.  Sit around the table and discuss memories from childhood.  The perceptions, memories and impressions may vary dramatically from one family member to another.  Interview two witnesses to an accident and note the varied and often contradictory testimony that they give.  We need help to remember, preserve and enforce our understandings and wishes.

In order to protect ourselves and predict our future obligations and expectations we need to “memorialize” agreements.  For many years the law has required that an agreement affecting title to real estate must be in writing and often must be filed in the deed records of the county in which the property is located.  Why is this? Real estate matters are considered important.  The very act of putting an agreement or understanding in writing allows the parties to clarify what they are willing to live with and what they will actually commit to do.  Not my perception of the terms, the terms themselves.

Writings preserve understandings, agreements and wishes.  Memory is not reliable and the person or entity with which I first dealt may not be the responsible party in the future.

What Uncle Buck said to me at his house in 1953 may be a precious memory, but what his will says and what the deed records reflect is much more reliable.  Imagine the scene as every family member and friend to whom Uncle Buck promised things showed up at his house or at the courthouse following his death to claim their bounty.  To preserve his wishes, Uncle Buck needs to have an experienced attorney draft the proper documents to assure his wishes become reality.  By committing his wishes to writing in proper form they can be preserved.

Perhaps the most important reason to get things in writing is so they can be enforced.  A lack of certainty and faulty recollections lead to conflict.  The person who says “it will all work itself out” or “everybody knows what I want” is kidding himself.  As opposed to the chaos created by lack of planning, a well-advised and executed plan can smooth the path.

The person who says, “I don’t have anything to fight over” has never seen a family torn apart trying to divide a small estate or watched the accumulated wealth of a lifetime eaten up in litigation costs.  In order to remember, preserve and enforce what is important, it is essential to get it in writing!  A good lawyer can make sure it’s done right so you can sleep at night.

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