By Attorney Edward Jesson
It happens more often than we would like to see, but sometimes work is complete, a dispute arises, and suddenly it is discovered that the contract that everyone assumed to be in place was not signed. This happens frequently in construction cases (most often seen with contracts between General Contractors and Subcontractors) but the issue can also rear its ugly head in any other contractual setting, especially where independent contractors are involved.
In legal terms, in order for an agreement between two parties to be binding and valid, there needs to be a “meeting of the minds”. Put simply, it needs to be clear that the parties to the contract intended that contract to govern the relationship between them. Most frequently, a signature on a contract signifies each party’s intent to be governed by that contract.
So what happens when, sticking with the construction industry example, a subcontractor performs all work under its subcontract agreement with the general contractor and then a dispute arises and it turns out the contract wasn’t signed?
Generally, when courts are confronted with an unsigned agreement, their default opinion will be that the parties never reached that “meeting of the minds” and therefore they did not intend to be bound by the terms of that contract.
However, this doesn’t mean that no contract between the parties existed and that the party seeking to enforce its rights under the agreement has no recourse. The court will next look to all other evidence which indicates what the agreement was between the parties. For example, if there were multiple drafts of a contract with different terms included, the court may decide that the earlier draft contracts that had parts removed from them at a later date is evidence that those removed contractual terms were not a part of the parties’ agreement.
Courts may also look to whether there was a “contract implied in fact” between the parties. In the general contractor subcontractor example, evidence that the general contractor asked the subcontractor to perform work and the subcontractor did perform that work would certainly be evidence of a “contract implied in fact”. It would be unreasonable for a court to decide that the subcontractor did that work and did not expect to receive any payment for that work. Oral agreements are oftentimes valid. There is no requirement that many types of contracts be in writing. Therefore, if you’re on the other side (someone completed work for you but you didn’t sign the contract), you don’t get a free pass! If you do not pay, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
In any event, it is important to have a written contract signed by the parties. It sets the expectations of both parties – what they’re supposed to do in exchange for compensation. When it is reduced to writing, there are less evidentiary issues in court. When it is reduced to writing, it is less likely that there will ever be a lawsuit about the terms because a signed contract shows that all parties agreed to the terms.
The attorneys at Jesson & Rains are ready to assist with drafting and review of contracts, and, importantly, assist clients who find themselves in disputes arising from unsigned contracts. Just because you do not have a signed contract, it does not mean you have no rights.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
If you have ever formed a business through the Secretary of State’s office, you know that you get a lot of junk mail shortly thereafter. Recently, there have been some new schemes targeting North Carolina business owners through the mail. These mailings look like official government documents, and they quote statutes, cite scary penalties, and prompt the business to pay a fee for a certain “required” form.
One misleading mailing comes from the Filing Labor Compliance Department Services (FLCD), a Florida company that sends a “2019 Certificate of Status Request” form. This form implies that all business entities are required to obtain a Certificate of Status and return the form with a $78.00 fee. Another misleading mailing comes from NC Certificate Service, offering a 2019 Certificate of Existence for $74.50.
However, there is no state requirement that each registered business entity obtain an annual Certificate of Existence. A Certificate of Existence is only required if a business does business in another state. The certificate is issued by the North Carolina Secretary of State for a whopping fee of $10.00 online!
Finally, another mailing scheme comes from the Labor Compliance Department, also based out of Florida, and asserts that businesses are required to purchase state and/or federal labor law posters to display at the business address. The scam offers to provide a labor law compliance package for an $83.00 fee. This scam cites scary penalties for failing to display these posters in a visible location at the business. While the posters really may be required depending on the type of business, these posters can be obtained for free online from the North Carolina Department of Labor.
Do not blindly mail in a check when you receive mail like this. Read it carefully. Contact your attorney or the Secretary of State’s office before paying anything.
A few weeks ago, it was reported that three handwritten wills were located in Aretha Franklin’s home months after she died, after it had previously been reported that she died without a will. The 2014 handwritten will was found in between couch cushions as part of a spiral notebook. It’s hard to read. Pages can be seen here: AP News Story
Two 2010 handwritten wills were found locked in a cabinet after the key was discovered. Her attorney filed all three and asked the probate court to determine their validity.
What if this happened in North Carolina? Handwritten wills (also called holographic wills) can be valid in North Carolina. They must be almost entirely in the handwriting of the testator (all of the substance must be in handwritten), signed by the testator, and “found after the testator's death among the testator's valuable papers or effects, or in a safe-deposit box or other safe place where it was deposited by the testator or under the testator's authority, or in the possession or custody of some person [or business] with whom . . . it was deposited by the testator or under the testator's authority for safekeeping.” Finally, it must be clear from the writing that the testator meant for the writing to serve as their Last Will and Testament.
Therefore, it’s unlikely that the 2014 will would be considered valid. It’s part of a spiral notebook found in couch cushions unlike the 2010 versions that were locked up. Also, it’s not clear from the writing that she intended for that document to be her will.
It’s not recommended to handwrite your own will for numerous reasons. First, you’re probably not an attorney – what if you use the wrong language? Forget important legal terminology? Second, it is more difficult to probate. Most typed wills, written by attorneys, are witnessed and notarized. The executor should have little trouble submitting the will to probate. The executor of a handwritten will will have to provide additional proof to the court, causing them stress and possibly costing more money. Finally, handwritten wills are asking to be challenged. If someone claims it is not the testator’s handwriting, handwriting experts will be called in to testify. Your estate could be reduced due to legal fees.
If you’re interested in having a will drafted by a professional, give Jesson & Rains a call!
By Attorney Edward Jesson
In 2012, North Carolina’s mechanic’s lien statutes were overhauled. One of the biggest changes was the requirement for a lien agent to be appointed on certain jobs. We still frequently receive questions about lien agent requirements and what the consequences of a contractor’s failure to file a “Notice to Lien Agent” actually are.
Lien agents are only required on projects involving improvements to real property valued at over $30,000.00, except that a lien agent does not have to be designated for projects where improvements are being done to an existing single-family residential building, occupied by the owner, even if those improvements are valued over $30,000.00. That exception also applies if the contract is for the construction of accessory buildings where “the use of which is incidental to that residence.” Generally speaking, the appointment of lien agents is more prevalent in commercial construction projects but it is also sometimes necessary to designate a lien agent for residential projects. While designating a lien agent is generally the owner’s responsibility, there is a limited ability for “custom contractors” (as defined by the statute) to designate the lien agent on residential new construction projects as, presumably, custom contractors should be more familiar with these laws than the average home owner.
In order to fully protect its rights as a contractor to pursue a claim of lien on real property, a contractor must file a Notice to Lien Agent within 15 days after it first “furnishes labor or materials to the project.” While failing to file a notice to lien agent within 15 days is not necessarily fatal to any future lien claims, it may limit the contractor’s lien rights should it be necessary to file a lien at a later date. If a contractor fails to file a notice to lien agent and, prior to filing the notice or to filing a claim of lien on real property, the property is sold or otherwise encumbered, the contractor seeking to enforce its lien rights at a later date may have issues doing so. On the other hand, if a contractor fails to file a notice to lien agent and it then becomes necessary to file a lien, the contractor will likely be able to do so if the property has not been sold or otherwise encumbered.
It is important to note that the lien agent does not take place of the owner or upper tier contractor for purposes of service. Any claims of lien on real property or claims of lien on funds should be filed (where necessary) and served on the owner and any necessary contractors and/or suppliers.
It is best practice, in projects where lien agents are appointed, to file the notice of lien agent as soon as possible—even prior to beginning work. There is a portal to provide Notices to Lien Agents on LiensNC.com, but if you have any further questions, the attorneys at Jesson & Rains would be happy to help.
Kelly will be co-hosting a complimentary estate and retirement planning seminar with Joe Roseman, Jr. Managing Partner, who will be talking about retirement, at the Morrison Regional Library.
Sign up today!
*Determine if a TRUST is right for YOU
*Avoid the most common mistakes retirees make with their estate plan
*Reduce future costs and taxes for your FAMILY
*Understand how to avoid letting the NURSING HOME take your house
*Discover powerful retirement and estate strategies you never knew existed
RSVP using this link.
Written by Danielle Nodar, Associate Attorney
Estate planning can be a daunting process for many people. Whether it is the stress of making decisions that will impact loved ones when we are gone or avoiding thinking about death or incapacity, many people are hesitant to create an estate plan. The confusion and anxiety surrounding this process have lead to some pervasive myths relatied to estate planning, which we have addressed below.
1. My estate is not big enough to require any estate planning.
There is a widespread myth that only the very wealthy need estate plans and that the average person does not have an “estate” to begin with. This is not true! When someone passes away, all of their assets become part of their estate; there is no minimum threshold of assets that make up an estate. Thus, at death, we all have an estate, it just varies in size and complexity based on the amount and types of assets you have. Oftentimes, people with fewer assets have the most issues during probate and could have really used the help of an attorney.
2. Estate Planning only deals with distributing property at my death.
Another myth is that your estate plan only deals with who will inherit your property when you pass away. This is also incorrect! A will also allows you to name people who may serve important roles when you pass away. In a will you will name an Executor to manage your assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries in your will at the time of your death. Without a will, you will not have any control over naming the person to manage you affairs at your death. Additionally, in North Carolina, the only way to name a guardian for your children in the event that both parents pass away while the children are still minors is to name the guardian in a Last Will and Testament. You can also name a trustee who is the money manager for inheriting children until they reach a certain age.
Additionally, estate planning involves planning for incapacity through durable powers of attorney and health care directives. With a durable power of attorney, you can name an agent to make business, legal, and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. You can also name an agent to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated and include specific instructions for them about your healthcare wishes. There is also the advance directive or “living will,” which includes your wishes relating to the withdrawal or withholding of life support if you are incapacitated and suffering from a medical condition where you will not likely recover.
3. If I have a will, I can avoid probate.
Having a will drafted will not always prevent your estate from having to go through probate to pass assets to your loved ones. If you pass away with a will, depending on the circumstances, your executor may have to file your will at the courthouse along with the initial probate application and then must comply with all the requirements of the probate process. This includes providing the court with an inventory of all of your assets at the time of your death, providing notice to any of your potential creditors existing at the time of death, handling creditor claims and paying creditors with estate assets, and making distributions of any remaining assets to your beneficiaries. While there are ways to avoid probate (for example, owning property joint with rights of survivorship, the surviving spouse allowance, and utilizing revocable trusts), sometimes merely having a will is not enough.
4. I do not need a will because my spouse will inherit everything.
In North Carolina, this is oftentimes false. The surviving spouse will remain owner of all joint property or accounts with right of survivorship. Also, every surviving spouse (regardless of the existence of a will) is entitled to a year’s allowance of $60,000 worth of the decedent’s personal property. If there are any other assets, a surviving spouse does not automatically inherit everything according to the North Carolina Intestacy Statute. For example, if you do not have a will and are survived by a spouse and only one child (or grandchildren, if that one child is deceased), the surviving spouse takes ½ of your real property, the first $60,000 of your personal property, and ½ the remaining balance of your personal property while the child inherits the remainder. If you do not have children but are survived by a spouse and parent(s), your spouse will inherit ½ of your real property, the first $100,000 of your personal property, and ½ the remaining balance of your personal property. Your parent(s) will inherit ½ of your real estate and any personal property remaining after the spouse’s share
Thus, without a will, you may be inadvertently leaving your assets to people who do not need them and leave your spouse in need. For example, if your children are minors, you may want your spouse to inherit your full estate to take care of your children.
Overall, all of these options are more complicated and involve more court oversight. It is much easier to create an estate plan with an attorney that ensures that your spouse inherits everything or is adequately taken care of when you pass away. If you or anyone you know have any questions regarding estate planning, please give Jesson & Rains a call.
Subscribe to our newsletter.