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When is a legal document legal?

(13 Posts)
Underconstruction Tue 29-Sep-09 22:20:33

My lovely but gullible aunt seems to have unwittingly signed (been misled into signing probably) a legal document. There is a witness? signature, but she?s never met the ?witness?. There is no date anywhere on the document, from any of the signatories. There have been a change to the document (a reference number) but only signed by the beneficiary of the document. The document includes ?interest at 6%? but doesn?t state whether the interest is hourly/weekly/monthly/annual. I?m sure there are other things but those are the only ones I can remember from the discussion.

The document appears to have been accepted by the Land Registry. Does anyone know if a) a legal document if the witness didn?t see the signature, b) legal if it?s undated c) if changes can be legal if signed by only one party and d) if there?s a default assumption about the interest (ie, would there be none because it?s not stated, annual? How would it work?)

I?m loathe to send her off down the legal track unnecessarily and I am no lawyer but it all seems very fishy to me.

Underconstruction Tue 29-Sep-09 22:22:43

Sorry - easier to read with apostrophes not question marks! blush

My aunt seems to have unwittingly signed (been misled into signing probably) a legal document. There is a witness’ signature, but she’s never met the “witness”. There is no date anywhere on the document, from any of the signatories. There have been some changes to the document but only signed by the beneficiary of the document. The document includes “interest at 6%” but doesn't state whether the interest is hourly/weekly/monthly/annual. I'm sure there are other things but those are the only ones I can remember from the discussion.

The document appears to have been accepted by the Land Registry. Does anyone know if a) a legal document if the witness didn't see the signature, b) legal if it's undated c) if changes can be legal if signed by only one party and d) if there's a default assumption about the interest (ie, would there be none because it's not stated, annual? How would it work?)

I'm loathe to send her off down the legal track unnecessarily but it all seems very fishy to me.

Buntytea Tue 29-Sep-09 22:56:16

Hi, sorry to hear about this.

There are lots of way a contract can be set aside.

I think you're right to trust your gut instinct - from the information you've given this obviously isn't a contract drafted by a (half way decent) solicitor. If your Aunt didn't know what she was signing, didn't understand it, or didn't intend it to be legally binding then at law, in theory, it should be set aside.

You don't say for what purpose the Land Registry accepted the document and I wouldn't want to be nosey by asking.

However, from the information you have given there is definitely something fishy going on to say the least!

Can I suggest the Citizen's Advice Bureau as a first port of call or a Law Centre?

Underconstruction Tue 29-Sep-09 23:02:30

Thanks Buntytea!

It's a loan against an estate for which she's an executor. I suspect that she signed the document in a pile of more reasonable ones. My reason for thinking that is not that she's always so attentive to what she signs but that she didn't actually have a copy and she's been good about keeping copies of everything she signed (she had to get a copy from the LR).

So, I'm sure she'd have understood it if she'd read it, but I'm not sure she read it. I am sure that it wasn't legally witnessed and that it's not dated.

Do all CAB offices have lawyers available do you know or do you have to book/go to a big branch?

Buntytea Tue 29-Sep-09 23:16:23

Sorry, I'm not sure about the CAB. But, it would be worth going I think if only they can advise her of her options and any Legal Help which might be available. There is quite a bit of info on the website I seem to remember.

The document sounds like a deed / contract hybrid which is very odd and adds to my suspicions that it was drafted by a non-lawyer.

Is there no chance she can contact the person with whom the contract was attempted to be made with to sort this out amicably! Apologies if that's a hopeless suggestion, but it's always worth a try!

Best of luck to your Aunt with sorting it out and sorry that I can't be of better help!

Underconstruction Tue 29-Sep-09 23:25:32

No, that's a lot of help, thank you. I think she's innocently hoping it'll all work out fine if she just buries her head for a bit (and of course it might) but I think she needs to know where she stands in case the proverbial hits the fan. I can't see how the LR would accept such a suspect document but maybe anything can be registered and it's up to the beneficiaries of the estate/contract to battle it out later, except that I think it might be delaying the sale of the property.

I realise there are many questions I didn't ask so should try and probe further tomorrow.

Must go to bed now. I'll look at CAB's site tomorrow. Many thanks!!

pregnantpeppa Tue 29-Sep-09 23:48:38

I'm not a property lawyer but if what she has signed purports to be a charge against the estate's property then I'm fairly sure it must be witnessed as a deed, i.e. an independant witness must actually witness her signature. I don't think not dating the deed or adding a very minor change like a reference number would it itself invalidate the document. 6% interest sounds like it refers to the standard county court debt rate and that is per annum but the document should spell it out! You could try calling the Land Registry office where the property is registered to explain her concerns, they will also be able to tell you the requirements for witnessing a charge document - I am sure they will take it seriously. Has your aunt got solicitors helping her administer the estate?

pregnantpeppa Tue 29-Sep-09 23:50:06

The more important question is actually whether your aunt disputes the debt owed on behalf of the debt?

pregnantpeppa Tue 29-Sep-09 23:50:23

on behalf of the estate, not on behalf of the debt.

LSEE Wed 30-Sep-09 12:44:30

If it was executed as a deed then the fact that it is undated could render it ineffective - many deeds contain a statement that they are delivered when dated, therefore if they are not dated they are not delivered and therefore are not effective. However, you may find that even if the date hasn't been inserted on the front page it will have been entered somewhere less obvious (like at the end of the signatures) so you'd have to check this carefully.

Likewise, if it was executed as a deed your aunt's signature would need to be witnessed in order for it to be effective. The witness doesn't have to countersign the signature at the time of signing, this can be done later, but the witness must actually see the document being signed. So if your aunt is correct in thinking that she never met the witness, that would also be grounds for arguing that the document is invalid (provided it is a deed).

In terms of changes being signed by one party only, this is a difficult area which has been complicated further by a recent case. It would really depend on what the change was and whether it was agreed by all the parties, whether or not they had all signed the amendment. Again, if the document is a deed there are more formalities to comply with and this is more likely to be an issue than it would be if it was a simple contract.

Difficult to answer the interest point without seeing the wording, usually interest would accrue daily and be compounded but the clause would need to specify. This may be covered elsewhere in the document.

I would usually expect a loan to be documented in a simple contract, in which case it wouldn't need to be witnessed, or necessarily dated, and it would be easier to make an amendment which wasn't countersigned. However, the fact that it was registered at the Land Registry implies that is contains some kind of charge which would mean it should be a deed.

If you are genuinely concerned about this you'd need to get a solicitor to look at the document. The Land Registry do usually check that deeds comply with the relevant formalities and reject them if they don't, so the fact that it has been registered could indicate that it's ok. However, registration isn't definitive and the Land Registry do get it wrong so if you are concerned definitely get it checked - explain your concerns and ask them to tell you whether there is anything wrong with the document - the fact that your aunt doesn't seem to know what she signed is a concern but on the other hand I've known people have documents explained to them in detail and then later claim that they didn't understand what they were signing up to.

Underconstruction Wed 30-Sep-09 19:00:18

Thank you both. This is very useful information. I will suggest that she contact the land registry. I have now seen the document, but only briefly and I'm no lawyer so I don't know how to spot that it's a deed rather than a contract.

The only thing I can be absolutely certain about is that she has never met the person that witnessed the signature.

The loan is to her co-executor, secured against the estate. The co-executors are co-beneficiaries. I'm sure she cannot claim that she did not understand the document, but is guilty of being too trusting and seems to have signed without reading carefully.

It looks like it is probably legally dated, but I can find nothing to specify what the 6% interest rate applies to - I hope it's annual not daily!!!

Many many thanks to you both. I will help her to call the Land Registry tomorrow.

LSEE Thu 01-Oct-09 13:37:57

The easiest way to tell is that if it's a deed it will say "executed as a deed" where she has signed. If it's a simple contract it will just say "signed".

Interest on a loan would usually accrue daily and 6% is high given the low base rate at the moment but probably not extortionate.

Good luck with the Land Reg, it really depends who you get - sometimes they are brilliant, sometimes they are dreadful!

babybarrister Fri 02-Oct-09 20:57:53

if she has lent the co-executor monies from the estate secured upon a property then even if this document is not binding, unless the loan is repaid she will presumably need a futher deed which is binding. I really think she needs to go and see a lawyer asap

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