Every time you buy a car, rent an apartment, or turn on utilities, you are signing a legal agreement which you think you understand. You think you understand the agreement because the language looks like it is written in normal English. Beware! The legal agreement is never written in English. It is written in a completely different language. The language is Legalese.
It is not just important for you and your family to understand what you are signing; it is critical. If you don’t understand what you have signed, you can find yourself in a world of hurt. The financial repercussions could lead to bankruptcy, loss of your home, or loss of your business.
What is Legalese
I am a lawyer and I really love Legalese. I want you to learn to love legalese too. You need to understand that every legal document must have legalese because the definitions of words in English have common definitions, while the definitions of the words in legalese have hidden meanings. If you don’t understand the hidden meaning, you may be out of luck.
Why not English
Legalese is a language which looks like English, feels like English and most of the time, sounds like English. In truth it is not English. English is the basis of the legal language, but it is not the same. There are very important differences. That is why there are lawyers. A lawyer’s job hinges on changing English into Legalese and translating it back into English.
Definitions of Simple Words
Let me give you a few simple examples, like the word Deed. In some circumstances a deed is a document which establishes ownership.
When I bought my home several years ago, the seller gave me the Deed to the property. The Deed says I own the property.
What is the problem you may ask? The type of ownership I have depends on the type of deed. If I get a Warranty Deed, in Arizona that means that the seller is saying I own this property and I have the right to sell it to you. When you receive property with that kind of Deed you own the real estate.
Quit Claim Deed
If the seller, instead of giving me a warranty deed, hands me a Quit Claim Deed, what does that mean. In Arizona, a quit claim deed transfers whatever ownership rights the seller had to the buyer. So, if the seller really owns the property, the buyer now owns it too.
But, if the seller does not own the property and still gives the buyer a Quit Claim Deed, then what happens? The buyer only owns what the seller owned, which could be nothing.
Selling the Brooklyn Bridge
The example they gave us in law school was about the sale of the Brooklyn Bridge.
If the Seller gave me a Warranty Deed for the Brooklyn Bridge, the deed is void. I can get my money back. If the same Seller gave me a Quit Claim Deed (not Quick Claim) how are my rights different?
Well, the Seller is selling the rights he has. If he owns the property, I am fine. If he doesn’t own the property, he can still ‘sell’ me the Brooklyn Bridge with a Quit Claim Deed. When the Seller has no rights to the property, I have a deed which is not worth the paper it is printed on. So, I have a worthless deed and I can’t legally get my money back from the Seller. I lose.
Remember to be very careful when signing any legal contract. Also, if the other party says to you, don’t worry about pages two and three, that’s just legalese, let me give you some words of advice. When you call the lawyer to read the agreement, tell the lawyer to start reading on pages two and three.
When to Call your Lawyer
When do you call your lawyer, anytime you enter into a legal contract with anybody!! Be especially aware of time shares, burglar alarm monitoring contracts and automobile leases.
When was the last time you signed a contract you didn’t really understand?