Can a Little Conjunction Change Your Ownership Rights? Manage Your Risk.
There may be much ambiguity in drafting legal documents. The subtle differences might not be apparent to a layman. I am not an attorney, but an exchange at a vehicle registration facility in Miami, Florida caught my attention.
The registration clerk asked if on the registration we wished to be listed as Mr. John Doe AND Mrs. John Doe or as Mr. John Doe OR Mrs. John Doe. The question took me aback since both names clearly appeared on the vehicle title document, which to me would have meant an automatic Mr. AND Mrs. Apparently there might be some legal discussion in that regard.
What does the difference mean? Both little words, AND and OR are conjunctions, which are basically described as “joiners”, words that connect parts of a sentence. The most commonly used ones are: and, but, or, yet, for, nor and so. There are many others. Our focus is on AND and OR as it relates to legal documents or even bank accounts.
The conjunction AND denotes inclusion with persons or items linked by it, those persons or items are considered as being together when connected by AND, for example Adam and Eve; peanut butter and jelly. OR, on the other hand suggests, and I quote from a definition, “that only ONE possibility can be realized, excluding one or the other”. In other words, OR introduces alternatives, to use the same example: peanut butter OR jelly, but not necessarily both.
In an ownership situation, if the document is written as John Doe OR Jane Doe, presumably either John or Jane can dispose of the item in question, legally, without the other’s consent or even knowledge, e.g. sell the car. If the document is phrased as John Doe AND Jane Doe, then BOTH would need to consent to any change in ownership.
Before you sign a deed, mortgage, automobile registration or any other document, where there is more than one person’s name on the signature line, check first with your attorney as to how you want the document to read. Know what you’re signing and the implications of what little words such as AND or OR might mean in a legal context. Manage your risk, just in case.
If you care about managing risk in your real estate transactions, firstname.lastname@example.org .
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