Deeds vs Agreements: What’s the Difference?
deeds vs agreements: what’s the difference?
Contracts are an essential part of running a business, and they often come in different forms. You may have noticed that some documents are called ‘agreements’, and some are instead called ‘deeds’. So, what exactly is the difference between the two?
Although both are legally binding documents that indicate a party’s promise to do something, the requirements and effect of these documents are very different.
It is important for you to understand these differences and use the most appropriate one for your commercial transactions. We will highlight some of the key differences below to help you avoid being confused between the two.
what is a deed?
A deed is a special type of binding promise or commitment to do something. It indicates the executing parties’ intention to make a solemn and binding promise.
People often use a deed when substantial interests are at stake, such as when a person passes an interest, right or property. Deeds are also used when a unilateral promise is being made and there is no consideration from another party for that promise. For example, a unilateral confidentiality deed.
Common types of deeds:
- Confidentiality Deed/ Non-Disclosure Deed
This is when you want to ensure that another party (for example, a consultant) does not share your confidential information. Typically, no consideration is provided under this type of arrangement because the consultant is not giving you anything in exchange for your disclosure of confidential information.
- Deed of Termination
This is a document signed by the parties to confirm that a legally binding contract previously entered into is to be brought to an end.
- Deed of Release and Settlement
This is often used in legal proceedings to formalise an agreement between the parties to settle the dispute. Formal legal proceedings need not have been started. A deed of release is often used by parties wanting to avoid a court action starting.
- Deed of Indemnity
This is used by one party to protect and hold harmless another party as a result of a specific type of relationship, or for a specific purpose. For example, companies provide an indemnity to their directors against liabilities or legal costs incurred in the directors’ capacity as a director of the company, with some limitations.
- Letter of Credit / Guarantee
For example, when you purchase a property through a company or trust, the seller may require you to provide them with a personal financial guarantee to secure the obligations of the buyer.
Another example is where you are asked to provide a bank guarantee to secure the landlord’s rights to recover payment of rent. Your bank may then provide a bank guarantee or letter of credit to the seller on your behalf. There is no consideration between your bank and the seller for this guarantee. So, to ensure that it is binding, the guarantee is set out in the form of a deed.
What is an agreement?
An agreement is another name for a contract.
It is formed when the following elements are met:
- consideration; and
- intention to be legally bound.
If you are selling goods or services in exchange for money, then what you need would be an ‘agreement’ instead of a deed because consideration is provided.
If you are providing those goods or services to the other party and does not ask for anything in return, then you should draft the arrangement as a ‘deed’.
So, what are the key differences between a deed and an agreement?
The most distinct difference between a deed and an agreement is the commercial exchange between the parties.
Under an agreement, one party must provide ‘consideration’ to the other party to show that they have reached a bargain, and that they have ‘bought’ the promise by providing something of value in return. This is usually in the form of payment but can also be in the form of starting an action, such as starting a design, or construction, or delivery of goods.
However, a deed requires no such payment or consideration to be legally binding.
Another significant difference between the two types of documents is the formalities required.
A deed must be:
- in writing
- expressed to be a deed
- delivered to the other party
- where an individual (not a company or trust) executes a deed: witnessed by at least one person who is not a party to the deed
However, an agreement can be more flexible in form and does not need to meet the above requirements to be legally binding. An agreement can also be made up of multiple documents. Please see our article [link] on what you need to know about legally binding contracts.
In determining whether a document is a deed or agreement, the Queensland Court of Appeal has found that by using the words ‘executed as a deed’ or ‘by executing this deed’ unequivocally expresses an intention that the document was a deed rather than an agreement.
Another factor is whether or not the signing parties intended for the document to be immediately binding. If the answer is yes, the document is more likely to be construed as a deed.
- Execution (Signing)
Importantly, a deed is binding on a party when it has been signed, sealed and delivered to the other party. That is, even if the other party has not yet signed the deed.
On the other hand, an agreement must be signed by both parties before the agreement is formed, although with electronic signing, the actually application of a wet signature to a document may not be necessary, and an exchange of emails with a clearly identifiable and reliable signature on the email may be sufficient.
Different states have different legislation, so you need to ask about your local state requirements to make sure your deed is properly executed.
If you are an individual:
Under the Queensland legislation, you must have your signature witnessed by at least one person who is not a party to the deed.
If you are a company:
S.127 of the Corporations Act 2001 governs execution of documents by corporations. For example, a company without common seal can execute a document by having two directors or the sole director and secretary to sign it. This applies to both deeds and agreements.
- Limitation period
Both deeds and agreements are legally enforceable documents but be careful because they have different limitation periods.
‘Limitation period’ is the time frame you have available to enforce your deed or agreement against someone for breaching it. Each state has different limitation periods.
In Queensland, you must action a breach of an agreement within 6 years. In contrast, you have 12 years to action a breach of a deed.
This is the reason why it may be a good idea to draft non-disclosure deeds to protect your confidential information instead of non-disclosure agreements. For example, if your employee breaches a confidentiality agreement written into their employment agreement, you will be able to action against them for breach within 6 years, but if you have a separate confidentiality deed, you will be able to initiate a claim within 12 years instead.
With these core differences between a deed and an agreement in mind, you should be able to carefully consider your needs and figure out the most appropriate document to use for your business.
Want more information?
If you need help with drafting deeds or agreements or figuring out whether a deed or agreement is more appropriate for your use, please contact us.