When it comes to the people I represent in personal matters, one of the most important documents that we draft is a settlement agreement of the issues. Sometimes it is a family law matter, other times it's a simple dispute between friends and sometimes it's even a dispute amongst family members (it can be as trivial as the proper dividing up of their childhood baseball card collection).
Preparing these documents can be a very time consuming process. Clients will often come to my office envisioning a 2 page document, a "simple" contract for _____, and end up leaving with a 15+ page fully executed and notarized agreement covering all of the issues that exist between the parties.
To most people, the simple agreement sounds good in principle, but falls apart in practice when you realize the variety of issues that are truly present. You can have issues of:
- Tax - what are the tax implications if money or assets are being transferred?
- Agency - who has the power to actually sign the agreement?
- Privacy - what information in the agreement can even ben disclosed to someone else?
- Mediation - if there is a dispute, do the parties sue each other or go to mediation?
- Jurisdiction - what law governs if there is a dispute over the agreement?
These five items are by no means exhaustive, and they can change depending on what your agreement covers. But in all agreements, it is a good idea to take your time and think about what you are agreeing to and what you are signing.
Last week, a nice gentleman stopped by my Brooklyn office for a short chat and to review with him an agreement that he was given and told to sign within 24 hours, or there would be no agreement at all. He was a little concerned at the short timing of the agreement and when we looked at it, there was good reason to be worried. There were many issues that were being "settled" against him and when they were all considered, it wasn't a good deal at all. Of course, the other party, being very upset that he had taken the agreement to an attorney, told the gentleman that they no longer had a deal (but they didn't have a deal in the first place!) and he would be hearing from his lawyer.
One week later and we still haven't heard from that lawyer...
The moral of the story is that if someone tries to shove an agreement in front of you and have you sign it without time to read and consider it, it might not be a good agreement for you to sign.