Legal FAQ United States


Common questions about legal documents
What is a legal document?

A legal document is a form or contract that provides information or that details a binding agreement and gives rights between parties.

Why should I have a written legal document?

Written agreements, like legal contracts or documents, provides clarity about each party’s expectations. A written contract allows each party to clearly define all of the terms and conditions that they wish to include in the agreement to help prevent future misunderstandings.

Written agreements can also act as proof of what was decided between the parties at the time the final agreement was made in case any disputes arise in the future.

What does "Jurisdiction" mean?

A jurisdiction is a territory with boundaries, like a state, province, or country that has its own laws.

For example, California is a jurisdiction in the United States, Ontario is a jurisdiction in Canada, and Scotland is a jurisdiction in the United Kingdom.

What is the "Governing Law"?

In a legal document, the “governing law” of the document refers to the laws that control what the parties are trying to do with the legal document. Typically, these are the laws of the jurisdiction where the property is located or the actions of the parties will take place.

For example, if you live in Texas, but are leasing a property in California, the governing law of your Residential Lease would be that of the state of California.

In some circumstances, it may be necessary to choose between several jurisdictions. In states or provinces where legislation is similar, the jurisdiction may not make a difference, but in some circumstances, there may be advantages to choosing one jurisdiction over another.

If you aren’t sure of how the law can best be applied in your circumstance or need specific advice, then you should contact a local lawyer.

What does "Joint and Several Liability" mean?

Joint liability means that all parties involved are equally responsible for the obligations of a loan, debt, or other liability.

Being severally liable means that if one of the parties is unable to pay their portion of a debt, then the other parties in the agreement are responsible for their own portions as well as the unpaid portion.

Being both joint and severally liable at the same time means that all parties involved are equally responsible for the obligation of the contract (such as a loan), and that any one of them could be individually responsible for the entire obligation.

For example, if three people were to enter into a Loan Agreement as borrowers with joint and several liability, they would all be equally responsible for paying off the whole debt. If one of the three parties was unable to pay their share, the other two parties would become responsible for paying the entire balance.

What does "time is of the essence" mean?

When a legal document states that “time is of the essence”, it means that any deadlines specified within the contract must be strictly followed.

Failure to meet any specific deadline would result in a breach and may be grounds for canceling the contract altogether.

When no deadlines are specified in a legal contract, the parties are expected to act in a “reasonable time”. In legal terms, “reasonable time” means what someone would generally consider to be a realistic and practical timeframe under the circumstances described in the contract.

Why should I use mediation or arbitration instead of going to court?

Mediation and arbitration can be good options when the parties involved have a pre-existing relationship and wish to maintain that relationship despite having a dispute.

Both mediation and arbitration are focused on finding a mutually agreeable solution to a problem and are generally less expensive and less time consuming than going to court.

Do legal documents have to be drafted by a lawyer?

There is no legal requirement for a document to be drafted by a lawyer, and individuals are free to draft their own documents if they wish to.

However, in order for someone to practise law in your jurisdiction, they must be a licensed lawyer. For example, advising you on your specific legal rights in regards to a contract, or drafting a contract for you, is practising law, and must only be done by a lawyer.

LawDepot.com does not provide advice specific to any individual’s situation. We provide general legal information. We also do not draft or tailor the contract for the person's specific fact situation. The individual customer must decide for themselves which contract best suits their own needs and what information to provide on the questionnaire in preparing their own document.

While we make it easy for a customer to know how to complete the questions and to make informed decisions, it is the customer that decides what is best for their specific situation. Some of our customers have saved on legal fees by drafting their document at LawDepot.com then taking that draft to their lawyer for minor tweaks to reflect the customer's specific situation.

Can I amend a legal document?

Yes, legal documents can be amended. If you wish to make a change to a legal document, ensure that all parties agree before making any amendments.

If you are going to make a small change to a document, like a correction or a deletion, you can use an Amending Agreement to both put the desired change in writing and to ensure that all parties are aware of the adjustment.

If you need to make extensive changes, it is recommended that you create a new version of your contract.

Do I need to print my document on legal size paper?

In almost all cases, there is no requirement for legal contracts to be printed on legal size paper.

If a document needs to be registered with the records office in a specific jurisdiction or if there are special printing requirements, LawDepot research staff have endeavored to ensure that when you use LawDepot’s software as directed, your document will print according to the requirements of the jurisdiction you have selected.

If you are unsure about printing requirements, you should contact the local records office or an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction where you will register your document for any specific requirements.

What does “enure” mean?

“Enure” (or “inure”) means to take effect and serve to the use, benefit, or advantage of a person. “Enure” is commonly seen in formal legal language, though “inure” is more commonly seen in conversation.

A contract that states that something will "inure to the benefit of Bill Smith" means that Bill Smith will receive the benefit of that thing.

For example, in a Residential Lease, if a clause says “This Lease inures to the benefit of the respective heirs, executors, and assigns of each party”, that means that if the owner of the rental property were to pass away, the person who is assigned the lease would be entitled to receive rental payments. The benefit of receiving rental payments would inure to the person who inherits the property.

Witnessing a Document
Are faxed and scanned copies of signed documents legal?

Many of our documents can be executed in counterparts and this will often be included as a clause in the agreement.

This means that each party can sign a different copy of the document but both signature pages would be put together with one version of the contract. If the contract states that facsimile (faxed, scanned, or emailed) signatures are acceptable, then you could fax the contract and signatures to the other party.

Where there is no provision in the document authorizing facsimile signatures then you should contact an attorney in your jurisdiction to determine the laws affecting facsimile signatures and your specific document.

What is a Notary Public?

A Notary Public is a state-appointed official who is authorized to authenticate certain legal documents, such as declarations, acknowledgments, deeds, mortgages, and other contracts.

Swearing or signing in front of a Notary Public is better evidence that the document or contract was signed by that person.

Who can be a witness to a legal document?

Generally the person you choose to witness a document should have no financial or other interest in an agreement. A neutral third party is the best choice.

A neutral third party is someone who is not related to either party and who does not benefit from the contract.

Ideally a witness will observe the relevant party or parties signing the document and sign the document as proof that they witnessed the parties signing. The witness is not usually required to know or understand all of the contents of the document. Depending on your jurisdiction, some documents, such as a Last Will and Testament, have clearly regulated requirements regarding the number of witnesses and the nature of the relationship between the parties and the witness.

Some jurisdictions disallow witnesses that are mentioned in your Last Will and Testament, either as a beneficiary or an executor/executrix. In many cases, if your document has specific requirements for execution, LawDepot will help to guide you through the process. You should contact a local lawyer or review local statutes if you have any questions about how to execute your document.

Do I need a notary or a witness for my legal document?

Most documents and contracts don’t require a witness for them to be legally valid. However, some documents, such as a Last Will and Testament, can have clearly regulated requirements pertaining to witnesses.

Additionally, many banks and other institutions have their own policies about signing requirements and may refuse to accept documents that are not notarized, regardless of a legal requirement.

If you want to avoid bureaucratic hold-ups, it may be a good idea to take your document to a Notary Public or have it witnessed. You may also want to contact the institution, branch, or registry where your document will be used to determine what they require.

Executing a Legal Document
What does it mean to "execute" a document?

When a person executes a document, he or she signs it with the proper formalities.

For example, if there is a legal requirement that the signature on the document be witnessed, the parties execute the document by signing it in the presence of the required number of witnesses.

What is the difference between an effective date and an execution date?

The execution date is the date that the party signs the document.

The effective date is the date that the benefits and duties in the agreement begin, and can be a specified date other than the date the agreement was signed. If no other date is specified, the contract is effective on the execution (signing) date.

How do I sign a legal document as a company?

If you see “Per: _______________ (Seal)” in your contract, an officer of the company would sign in the space provided and then affix the company's corporate seal.

How do I sign a legal document?

You should sign your legal document using the same signature that you have used for banking or identification. It is strongly recommended that you sign using a pen, in a color that is different than the text in the document itself.

For example, if your document was printed using black ink, sign your signature in blue ink to reinforce the validity of your contract.

Where should I sign a legal document?

Most legal documents have a page at the end of the terms and clauses that includes a space for each party’s signature. This is referred to as the signing page.

Where should I initial a legal document?

If your legal document is made up of multiple pages, like a Last Will and Testament or Residential Lease Agreement, initialing each page can help to show that all of the terms within the document were read and accepted.

It is also best practice to initial next to any handwritten changes or updates within your legal document or contract.

Serving a Document
What does "serving a document" mean?

To serve a document means to formally deliver a document from one party to another in a manner that is legally acceptable.

This may be accomplished in many ways including delivery in person, delivery by registered mail, delivery by process server, or, for more serious matters, delivery via a sheriff or bailiff.

The person to whom a document is delivered may attempt to avoid or deny delivery of a document. It is prudent to use some method of verification of delivery.

What is "proof of service?"

Proof of service is evidence that can be introduced into court to verify that the party did in fact receive a copy of a document. Anytime a process server or court official is used to deliver a notice to a party, it is advisable that you request proof of service.

If I deliver a document myself, how do I prove that it was received?

If you deliver a document in person, you should ensure that an objective third party (a person who is unrelated to you and has no interest in the matter) witnesses the event, just in case the other party later tries to deny having received the document.

Please note that some documents must be delivered or served by an objective third party.

In some jurisdictions, it may be required that service is performed by a process server, sheriff, or bailiff for certain documents. If you think you might end up in court, you should make sure that you know the local rules required to serve your document.

Can I serve a document by certified mail or registered mail?

It depends on the document and if there are local rules that require a certain method of serving the document. Also, if the other party refuses to pick it up, then they may not be viewed as having received it. Certified or registered mail will usually work when serving a corporation if it is sent to the registered office of the corporation.

Be sure to check your local rules for any requirements that may affect your jurisdiction or your document.

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