Your handshake agreement is worthless

By Jedidiah McKeehan

Sometimes when I talk to individuals they will tell me, “We had a handshake agreement that XYZ would happen, but now they are saying that never happened!”

When lawyers hear a story like this, the clients will then hear the sound of the lawyer banging their head against their desk through the phone. STOP MAKING HANDSHAKE AGREEMENTS! Sign something! Sign anything!

Yes, verbal agreements are technically enforceable, but they are based on the premise that people can agree as to what the verbal agreement is, which can often be the problem.

It is typically too late to undo the damage caused by the time someone contacts me, however, my advice is always, “It’s better to be a little bit of a jerk at the beginning to avoid a problem down the road.”

Here is how it happens: you have an empty room in your house and your old college buddy wants to rent it out from you. You told him he could pay you $500.00 a month in rent and help out with the bills. But you do not define what “helping out with the bills” means and you all do not sign anything.

Your friend pays for a while, then the payments are late, then he is not paying anything for the bills or making no payments at all. Now you want him out and him to pay you the money he owes you, but you did not bother getting him to sign a lease because it was your friend.

Or maybe it’s when you have a friend of a friend to do your yardwork and you all did not really discuss a price and then he wants $100.00 more because he weeded the flower beds, and you did not ask him to do that.

I can keep going with examples, but you get the point. Get something, anything, written down and agreed upon before moving forward with any kind of arrangement where money exchanges hands.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including divorce, custody, criminal, and personal injury. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.