Get it in writing. These four words are likely the most common piece of advice any attorney gives to clients, friends and family members.  Yet, so often, people proceed through all sorts of transactions with others without reducing the agreement to writing.

Many legal actions arise simply because this was not done. Hindsight is always 20/20, however, it does little good to wish you had gotten something in writing once the transaction goes bad and litigation starts. Foresight can eliminate a great deal of trouble. Gone are the days when a person’s “good word and a handshake” were all that was necessary.  The only way to make certain all parties are in total agreement is to make sure the agreement is reduced to a writing that is concise and specific in the terms.  By doing this, neither party can later claim surprise that something was or was not done. With a written agreement, each party knows exactly what is expected of them.

Some transactions must be in writing, such as  mortgages and sales of real estate.  The reason being that each party has a tremendous investment and nothing should be left to guess later. You’ll find that those reasons apply to a whole host of situations. Any time money changes hands for services or products, you may want a written agreement. Warranties, guarantees and sales return policies all give us rights and protections. Written agreements give a reference point and a more defined set of expectations.

People sometimes fear that they will offend another party by requesting a written agreement. If you offend someone just by asking for a written agreement, you may want to ask yourself (and them) why they are not willing to honorably reduce their agreement to writing. As an example, consider home improvement transactions. Without something in writing, the contractor does not have a set start date or completion date to govern their job.  If you find yourself in a situation where the other party is opposed to a written agreement, that is probably a red flag that you may not want to engage in a business transaction with that party.

In a broadened spectrum, much of Wisconsin’s Administrative Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Code (ATCP) hinges on whether or not there was a written contract governing the transaction. Further, certain activities are required to be put in writing. For instance, written notices of delay in home improvements, work change orders and materials to be used. The ATCP Code also contains other consumer protections involving written instruments, such as motor vehicle repairs.  Failing to have written transactions when required could cause a party to lose in a litigation situation even if the party had the best of intentions

Not all problems can be avoided, even with a written agreement. However, you can drastically reduce the possibilities by getting it in writing.

Get it in writing!