Get it in Writing … Real Life Reasons for Legal Agreements

By Alexis Martin Neely. Reprinted with permission from

Legal agreements are so boring, aren’t they? And, if you are like most people, you are making a lot of deals in life without documenting those deals. I always give people the benefit of the doubt and trust, so I do it myself. And, I’m a lawyer!

That means, if I do it, you do it too.  Contracts.jpg

But, having an agreement isn’t about not trusting someone. It’s about knowing that you’re on the same page. You might think you both agreed to something when in reality you thought one thing and they thought something else.

When you have an agreement in place, that risk is minimized.

Below are some real life examples (including one from my own life) of how putting it in writing can actually increase the likelihood of success for whatever you are doing, whether it’s personal or business related. And I’ve got some easy tips for creating your own legal agreements.

I recently hired a live-in nanny/house manager. She’s great and she’s saving my sanity. She worked with me for about 6 weeks and everything was great.

Then, things started getting not so great. Not bad, but I noticed little things starting to slip through the cracks – meals not ready on time, cats food bowls not refilled, not waking up on time a couple of times. Things like that.  Little things, really.

But, enough of these little things could add up to unhappiness and resentment.  So, I wrote up an agreement.

It’s a simple agreement that spells out my expectations. (If you want to see it, post a comment on the blog with your email address and I’ll send it to you.) You are more than welcome to use it as a basis for your own agreement.

I emailed it to her and let her know I wanted her input on it as well.  It’s an agreement, meaning we both need to agree to what’s included. We sat down together, went over each of the points, and we each signed it.  Simple. And, it fleshed out some places we were not on the same page, which could have become a problem later.

Here are some other situations in which you want to have written agreements:

  • Buying property with another person
  • Hiring an employee or an independent contractor (in fact, if they are an independent contractor, an agreement is even more important because otherwise you are at risk of them being reclassified as an employee, which means you owe all sorts of back taxes)
  • Getting married
  • Having a baby
  • Starting a business
  • Buying a business
  • Moving in together
  • Subletting your house
  • Contracting for services
  • Hiring a handyman or contractor

So, how do you get your legal agreement done easily?  Here’s a few simple steps:

1. Find a Template To Start From

Even lawyers don’t create legal documents from scratch. We use something we’ve created before or ask our friends to send us something they’ve used in a similar situation.

You can do the same by searching Google for the basic document you need … i.e., nanny agreement, cohabitation agreement, roommate agreement, parenting agreement, independent contractor agreement. You may be able to find something free or you may have to pay a few bucks.  It’s worth it.

For a template nanny agreement, post your email addy in the comments section of this blog post and I’ll send you my nanny agreement as a starting place for your nanny agreement.

2. Modify the Template to Fit Your Situation

The template you find is not going to be perfect for your situation.  It’s going to need modification based on the specifics of your situation. Use the template as a guide to spark your imagination of what you might want to include. There are generally very few mandatory parts of an agreement (other than the date and your signatures), so get creative. This is about your agreement and what you want.

3. Get Buy-In

Once you’ve put in everything you want, email it to the person you are creating the agreement with and ask them for their thoughts on the agreement. Make sure to mention the agreement is a starting place for discussion (if it is) and that you welcome their input.

4. Sign It, Date It and File It

Written agreements just need to be signed and dated to make them valid. Each of you should sign the agreement and date it. You generally don’t need witnesses or notarization.  Just your signatures and the date should do. Then, make sure that each of you has a copy of the agreement to refer back to in the event of uncertainty or a later disagreement.

5. Get it Reviewed … Maybe!

Sometimes, you need to get your agreements reviewed by a lawyer, sometimes you don’t.

So, when should you have a lawyer review your agreement? Generally, when it has anything to do with money or your business, it’s a good idea to get it reviewed. If you think there’s a possibility you might need to legally enforce the agreement some day, get it reviewed. One important note here on prenuptial agreements or marital agreements, in some states, like California, the agreement is not legally valid unless both parties were represented by a lawyer. That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to have an agreement, but it won’t be legally enforceable.

If the purpose of the agreement is about setting and managing expectations, it’s not necessary to get a lawyer involved. Just having the agreement is the point.Don’t have a personal lawyer in your life who can review simple agreements for you?  You should!  Get your own Personal Family Lawyer here.