Caution: Review Contracts Carefully Before Signing

Often, when handed a contract to sign, we do not take the time to review it carefully, and possibly even discuss it with an attorney. Sometimes, the contract pertains to an emotional matter, or a matter that the individual thinks is trivial. Yet this simple step could prevent a great deal of heartache, headache and expense in the future. One should always proceed with caution before putting pen to paper.

Recently, I was working with a client who was faced with the difficult task of placing her parent into a full-time nursing home facility. She signed a lease on her parent’s behalf and signed her own name as a personal guarantor, making her responsible for the payments due on the lease should her parent be unable to cover these expenses. Now some time has passed, and the client is concerned that perhaps she should not have signed the contract.

Sometimes it is possible to void a contract after it is signed. In some circumstances, for example, a person may be able to argue that they were pressured to sign by the other party, and that such pressure amounted to duress. The elements of economic duress are: “(1) that one side involuntarily accepted the terms of another; (2) that circumstances permitted no other alternative; and (3) that said circumstances were the result of coercive acts of the opposite party.” The circumstances causing the duress must have been caused by the opposite party; the mere taking advantage of financial difficulty is not duress, unless the party taking advantage contributed to or caused that financial difficulty. In short, duress, like most other defenses to a signed contract, is difficult to prove.

It is always easier to avoid unfavorable terms in a contract by reviewing and understanding them before you sign, than it is to try to avoid the contract’s effects later. So, when handed a contract, put down your pen. Take a deep breath and take the time to read it. If you do not understand something in it, consider discussing it with your attorney. If you do not have an attorney already, feel free to contact the attorneys at Konowitz & Greenberg. We will be happy to review your contract, and to make sure that your interests are protected.

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