What can be done if my mom signed a binding contract but understand what she was signing?

She signed contract on Thursday and really didn’t understand what she was signing. Now, she wants to cancel it.

She does not, nor has ever been, in any kind of contract or realty situation. She is 77 years old and had no one present at the time of the signing.

Asked on June 5, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

There is no general requirement that a person "understand" what they signed--only that they had the opportunity to review it and were mentally competent to understand it. (People sign things all the time without reading or making sure they comprehend them--software user licenses being a common, though generally low-stakes, example.) There is also no obligation that a competent adult have another person present when they sign a contract. So what you write about does not provide any basis for getting out of the contract.
Your mother can only get out of the contract if she (or you for her) can show one or more of the following:
1) She was not mentally competent when she signed (e.g. due to dementia), which will require medical evidence of incompetence.
2) The other side lied to her about what the contract said (fraud) *and* there was no reasonable way for her to know the true terms--which means that if the true terms were in the contract and she could have read it, she cannot claim fraud.
3) She was coerced by threats of violence or other illegal act (e.g. blackmail) into signing.
4) They forged her signature.
5) The other side breaches the contract in some "material," or important, way, such as by not making a payment when a payment is due: such a material breach can let your mother treat the contract as terminated.
6) The contract contains some cancellation or termination provision, and your mother complies fully with it.


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