Even as the rest of the world seems to require everything in writing, it remains an article of faith in farming communities throughout Michigan that business can still be conducted with a handshake. This is especially true if the parties to the deal, or their families, have known each other for a long time.
However, what the future holds is guaranteed to no one, and even the most reliable people and operations can find themselves in circumstances that strain or undermine their ability to keep their word. So too, memories can and do fade, and dealmakers – and their heirs – can easily find themselves in a dispute as to what, precisely, was agreed upon. It is for just those times that “put it in writing” is a prudent habit, regardless of your relationship or history with the other party.
Typically, the chief objection to even proposing that the terms of a farm transaction be put in writing is the concern that it might offend the other party by suggesting a lack of trust in them. However, people agree on the basis of a handshake when they are confident that both sides intend to, and will do everything within their power to, keep up their respective ends of the bargain. That same confidence should leave the parties with no qualms about simply spelling out what they understand their respective ends of the bargain to be.
Another common concern is that the writing that would be required to document a bargain is sure to be long, full of confusing legal language, and expensive and time-consuming to prepare. That does not have to be the case. With the help of good legal counsel, the language used can be brief and clear and still be a sound legal document.
Getting burned on a handshake deal that went badly despite the best intentions of the parties does not have to be “a cost of doing business.” Nor does it have to be the ruin of longstanding relationships. By making it a custom to document farm deals at their beginning, you make it easier, if things unfortunately do go wrong, for the parties to promptly sort out their respective rights and responsibilities and seek a resolution of the problem. In this way, doing your legal homework may help you more quickly get back to the farm work.