Small Business Tip: Written Contracts
For those who own, or want to own, a small business: MAKE SURE YOU HAVE WRITTEN CONTRACTS WITH CLEAR TERMS.
I had a case a few years back where my client sold her home health business to a “friend.” The two friends decided not to get a lawyer and instead used a form contract for the sale of the business. Of course, a dispute arose after the contract was signed. The buyer had made a down payment on the purchase of the business and then was supposed to make installment payments to pay off the balance. But, after running the business for a short time, the buyer decided that she had not received what she expected and, therefore, stopped making payments. The dispute ended up in a lawsuit, and the case went to arbitration. The arbitrator ultimately decided that no one won the case because there was a “mutual mistake” involved, meaning the parties never really agreed on the terms of the agreement. This was a very rare result because usually in a lawsuit someone wins. In the end, both sides lost out, the seller never got her money, and the buyer did not get the business she expected.
The above situation illustrates the importance of having written contracts that lay out the true terms of the contract. When a contract ends up in court, the judge will look to the “four corners” of the contract, meaning only what it says in the contract, not some verbal side deal that was never written down. The purpose of a contract is to deal with all potential issues that could arise. You want to make sure that your written contracts “say what you mean.” DO NOT just sign a business contract. Read it carefully (or have an attorney review it for you).
And, the days of a “handshake deal” do not exist anymore. I was doing legal research recently and read a quote from a case that I thought summed up this issue well and all business owners would be wise to remember:
An agreement that is based on trust and is not documented is fine as long as there is plenty of money and as long as there are no problems. The purpose of legal agreements is to define, in advance, who has superior rights when there are not enough assets to go around.
At Hymson Goldstein & Pantiliat, PLLC, we have experienced business law attorneys who can draft and review your contracts.
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 In re Moye, Case No: 07-37770 (Bankr. S.D. Tex., 2008).
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