Trust me. Those famous last words that end up breeding so many disputes in our lives. “What the heck, don’t you trust me?” Whether in friendship, marriage, business, or politics, much of our lives is built upon the foundations of trust. Merriam Webster’s defines “trust” as the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Hey, there is nothing wrong with trust. But only when you are absolutely rock solid in knowing with whom you are about to do business. And that, my friends, is really only about 1.5% of the time, if that. Trust me. ‘Tis true.
“Hey buddy, trust me. How long have we known each other? C’mon. I would never screw you out of anything. C’mon. I know what I am doing. You know this. This deal is going to be great! Let’s do it! Just give me your time, your talent, and your treasure. That’s all we need to ramp up and take off. We’re gonna be rich!”
The next thing you know, you find yourself drunk with the promises of a dishonest or an entirely incapable man. You change your position in reliance on a friend or business partner who proves to be a lazy lout or, worse, a charlatan. For those of you who don’t like fancy words, a dirty snake. You contribute great acts of labor or large sums of money, or both, in a business venture, a property purchase, or some other grand plan. You do so on a handshake or, if you are at least partially awake, with a few words scratched on a napkin or on some vague language in a text or an e-mail that you will later be lucky to find. You are trusting and confident. “Who needs a lawyer?” you ask yourself. “I don’t trust them.”
And then, inevitably, things go south. At least for you. The charlatan spirals out of control. He gets amnesia, claims credit and profits for himself, and suggests that you were nothing more than an employee or that the terms of “the deal” are not as you remember them. Nice. Now it is time to do what is really aggravating in life. Time to go and see that lawyer.
“Let’s take a look at your contract documents,” your lawyer says. “Uh, I don’t really have any, or many.” “What? Are you kidding me? How in the holy hell did you get this far, and go that deep, with this guy without any documents?” “Ah, er, I ah trusted the guy … .” Cripes almighty. Strap in and hang on.
Of course, there might be several reasons why you don’t have documents. Trust is the leader among them. Perhaps your business partner played the “Hey, I am a Christian, I would never screw you” card. Lots of people in this world are Christians. Most of these people are good and decent people. However, those few who actually have the gall to play the “I am a Christian” card in a business deal invariably should be ignored. Run away from these jokers. Now. And fast. There, this is your snippet of free legal and practical advice on the CookLaw blog for today. No need to thank me now.
Trust. We govern our lives by trust. On many many fronts. I trust that you are not going to drop your end of the heavy safe that we are moving into my basement so as to crush my toes. The loves of our lives trust that we will remain faithful and true until the end of our days. I trust that no one will steal the Milky Way bar that is patiently waiting for me in my freezer. You trust me when I say that I will be at your house on time to safely get you to the airport, and that I will not have to stop for gasoline or a sleeve of Ding Dongs along the way. Trust is a good thing.
However, one place where blind trust should not be placed is in a business or a real estate deal. For the protection of everyone, reduce your agreements to writing. Get names and signatures on contracts, deeds, accounts, and other documents that evidence interest, ownership, and authority. Having these protections may go a long way in protecting your legal rights. In some situations, the law requires a writing. The Statute of Frauds, for one example. For those of you who are junior aspiring attorneys, go look it up. For those of you who are smart business men and women, call your lawyer instead. We are trained professionals. Work with us. Money spent up front may prove invaluable if that day should ever come when the reptile who is your business partner reveals his true scales.
Written documents may not always give you bulletproof protection from heartache and loss. But they can and will go far in helping you, your business partner and, heaven forbid, a court of law to sort out the mess.