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You Should Write All Four Digits When Dating Legal Documents

As we are now through most of January, most people have probably heard the notice about writing out the entire year, 2020, on legal documents. The warning is that if you don’t write out all four 2020 digits, someone could change the date on the contract, check or other legal document to a past or future date by adding either a “19” or “21” after the “20.” Police departments, social media, and mainstream media have echoed the alert since the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve.

Although it’s not much of a big deal to write a couple of extra digits when filling out forms, you may ask yourself, why bother? Legal experts agree that you should write all four digits when dating legal documents, regardless of the year. However, writing out the entire year as 2020 is especially important now. Here's a few examples why:

“Someone could change the date of your will to a later date which may be interpreted as rescinding your true last will,” said Linda McGrail, an attorney specializing in estate planning with O’Reilly Rancilio PC. “He or she could also re-date an expired check or change the effective date of a contract, lease, etc.”

Some examples of how changing the date on legal documents could prove fraudulent include:

  • Backdating a deed to protect real estate from a creditor. Or inserting a subsequent date to divest the true owner of his or her property.
  • Changing the date on a will. A person’s last will is generally considered controlling so changing a will to 2023 when it was executed in 2020 could be interpreted as rescinding the true “last” will that may have been executed in 2022.
  • Backdating invoices to make it appear as if the revenue occurred in an earlier period on a company’s financial statements.
  • Changing the date from January 2020 to January of 2019 to receive tax benefits from the previous year.

“Many business disputes are decided based on who knew what and when. Further, the dates of contract proposals and responses thereto assist in determining the intended meaning of ambiguous contractual documents.” McGrail said. “Changing the dates on checks, purchase orders, change orders, etc. can change the meaning of contracts and outcome of other business disputes.”

Bank and personal checks

Personal checks are usually valid for six months after the date written on the check. Although unlikely, it is possible for someone to fraudulently backdate a newer check. For example, if someone found an uncashed check you wrote and dated with a two-digit year, they could cash the check fraudulently. How? If you wrote a check for 1/8/20, they could change the date to 9/8/2019 and attempt to cash the check. However, if someone has a check that was dated for 1/8/20 and it had expired, they could re-date it to 1/8/2021 and attempt to cash an expired check.

Punishment for committing check fraud, including fraud committed by backdating a check, may include fines, probation, or jail time. A defendant will also have to pay restitution to the victim for goods or services received with the bad check.

Linda McGrail is an experienced trial attorney specializing in business, family law, probate, and tax appeals. For more information or to speak with McGrail about estate planning or any legal matter, visit our website or call 586-726-1000.

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