A sign of the times the documents Brits sign without reading


LONDON, 11 SEPTEMBER: Almost two thirds of Britons have signed a legal or official document without bothering to read it fully first, shocking new figures reveal. And the biggest reason for skipping through the details is the baffling jargon and legalese according to the research by legal services experts SagaLegal.co.uk. However it could mean many are signing forms with small print and clauses that could come back to haunt them if something goes wrong, they warned.

A survey of 1,000 adults by SagaLegal.co.uk found 63 per cent have signed legal and official documents or forms without fully reading them first. For one in five (20 per cent), it is a mobile phone contract while 13 per cent did not read their mortgage agreement or property rental before putting pen to paper. 15% have autographed a loan agreement without checking what they have let themselves in for. Worryingly, eight per cent have signed a job contract and six per cent have even signed a Will, Lasting Power of Attorney or other legal document without studying what it means or involves.

Many legal firms are using technical phrases like chattel, codicil and intestate when talking to members of the public but are not necessarily explaining their meaning clearly. SagaLegal.co.uk is encouraging consumers to recognise the importance of fully reading and understanding any legal document to which they put their name and to feel confident when dealing with legal service providers in asking as many questions as necessary, at no extra cost, to achieve this.

The SagaLegal.co.uk survey found the most commonly unsigned legal document is the now ubiquitous ’t&c' (terms and conditions) box for almost everything bought online. The wordy and jargon packed boxes are signed but not read by 41 per cent of Britons, the research found. Previous studies have shown that some t&c boxes online have as many words as Shakespeare's Hamlet so it is surprising that anyone reads all of it.

According to SagaLegal.co.uk, the baffling language used in many official forms is what puts people off reading them before signing. Nearly half (44 per cent) say they do not read forms because of all the legal jargon in it, while 28 per cent claim they just read what they think are 'the important bits'. But even reading forms before signing them may not always be the answer, said the survey.

Emma Myers, Head of Wills, Probate and Lifetime Planning for SagaLegal.co.uk comments:

“Too much technical jargon clogging up legal documents both bores and confuses making it quite understandable that Britons are reluctant to read in full. Yet as mind-numbing as small print can be, signing a legally-binding document without fully reading and understanding can have serious legal implications later on. Now our lives are increasingly being lived online, it’s particularly worrying that the number one document Britons don’t read before signing is terms and conditions on websites.”

“We are encouraging consumers to feel empowered when dealing with legal service providers so they can understand exactly what they are signing. This means being comfortable asking as many questions as needed at a time convenient to them and at no extra cost.

Notes to Editors:

SagaLegal.co.uk provides a range of affordable and accessible legal products and services for over 50s at competitive fixed prices. Products include: Wills and Estate Planning, Probate and Conveyancing. For initial free advice or for more information, visit www.SagaLegal.co.uk or call: 0800 656 9927

Legal Jargon Buster

  • Assets - anything you own of value including property and land, investments, cash, and items such as paintings, antiques or valuable jewellery

  • Beneficiary - a person or institution, such as a charity, named in a Will to receive a bequest or gift of money or property

  • Chattels - personal belongings that usually include items of furniture, art, antiques, jewellery, watches

  • Crown - another name for the government or state - for instance if someone dies without a Will and there is no family, the estate goes to the Crown

  • Codicil - a legal document that is often used to make minor changes to a Will but in order for it be valid, the same formalities are applied

  • Estate - this usually includes your assets and chattels, - in other words, everything owned in your name

  • Executor - the person(s) named in a Will to administer your estate after your death

  • Grant of probate - the legal document issued to the executors that authorises them to deal with the estate. Without it, money and property cannot be distributed according to the Will

  • IHT- Inheritance tax

  • Intestate - this is when someone dies without a valid Will in place and their estate is distributed according to very strict Rules of Intestacy

  • Issue - children, grandchildren, adopted children

  • Joint tenancy - a common arrangement for property owned by two or more people. When one owner dies, their ownership passes to the surviving owner(s). 

  • Tenants in common – different to the above because each separate share of the property can be passed on, and doesn't automatically go to other part owners

  • Testator/Testatrix - the person who's writing the Will - Testatrix if they're female

  • Witness - a Will must have two witnesses to the testator signing it and they must not be beneficiaries of the Will, even indirectly

Top ten documents we sign without reading


1.       Online terms and conditions (41%)


2.       For a parcel (28%)


3.       Contract for Mobile phone/tablet (20%)


4.       Direct debit agreement (16%)


5.       Hire purchase agreement (15%)


6.       Loan (15%)


7.       Mortgage agreement or property rental (13%)


8.       Car hire (10%)


9.       Job contract (8%)


10. A will, power of attorney or other legal document (6%)