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'Put It in Writing!'

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[April 20, 2010]  "Put It in Writing!: Creating Agreements Between Family and Friends." Deborah Hutchison and Lynn Toler, Sterling Publishing, 2009, 164 pages.

Review by
Richard Sumrall

It's a familiar story repeated many times. Someone loans a friend money, only to lose the money and the friend. A friend lets another friend live temporarily under the same roof, only to inherit a permanent roommate. These all-too-common situations can be avoided by putting the terms of these agreements in writing.

In their new book, "Put It in Writing!" authors Deborah Hutchison and Judge Lynn Toler emphasize that "written agreements signed by both parties are far superior to oral and implied agreements, because they give the parties some certainty and clarity they become tools for better communication." The book explains how the two parties can come to a mutually advantageous agreement that specifies the details, minimizes the danger of hard feelings, has a written record of the terms and benefits both parties.

When you put an agreement on paper, consider these tips to reduce the chance of any misunderstandings:

  1. Use the correct names of everyone involved.

  2. Answer the when, where, how, how much and how often.

  3. Include specific dates and time periods.

  4. Clearly state any amounts and values.

  5. Identify any property involved.

  6. Attach any schedules to record each one's responsibilities.

  7. Don't just say what, say how.

  8. Prepare for the unexpected.

Once you are ready to sign the agreement, it is advisable to read it out loud (to catch mistakes), ask questions, ask a third party to read it, and sleep on it (sign it later).

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The most common situations and agreements

The majority of the book is devoted to a review, analysis and advice on the 11 most common agreements between family, friends or interested parties. The authors also include with each of the 11 scenarios a blank sample agreement form that you can customize for your particular needs. These agreements include situations such as:

  1. Lending money.

  2. Lending personal property.

  3. Temporary residence.

  4. Shared parenting.

  5. Caring for aging parents.

  6. Safe driving for teenagers.

  7. Shared pets and pet care.

  8. Lending a vacation home.

  9. Personal confidentiality.

  10. Roommates.

  11. A blank agreement for any conceivable arrangement.

A good example of these 11 agreements is the care for aging parents. This agreement identifies all of the siblings involved, explains the siblings' commitment to the parents' care and well-being, defines the conditions for parents who live on their own or with a sibling, the finances that are required and who will pay what, who will make the daily and major decisions, how to establish the lines of communication, and the signatures of everyone participating. Other attached forms to this agreement can define any other shared responsibilities, relief for the primary caregiver or the parents' expenses arising from the agreement.

"Put It in Writing!" is a clear, easy-to-use guide that helps parties come to an arrangement that is fair, compatible and respectful of their relationship to each other. According to Hutchison: "What I have discovered is that writing up an agreement helps everyone involved move past the emotions that come up when we deal with friends and family members. Agreements make it possible to help each other and at the same time establish boundaries so that relationships aren't put into jeopardy by miscommunication or misunderstandings."

This book is recommended to anyone seeking straightforward language and guidelines to draft a personal agreement with a friend or loved one.

[Text copied from file received from Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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