Alteration of Instruments - Material Changes - Method, Time of Alteration, Intention, The Person Making the Change, Consensual Alteration
A change in the meaning or language of a legal document, such as a contract, deed, lease, or COMMERCIAL PAPER, that is made by one party to the document without the consent of the other after it has been signed or completed.
If such a change is made by a third party without the consent of either party to the instrument, it is called a spoliation or mutilation.
The face of an instrument is changed by its alteration. A difference in handwriting, a change in words or figures, an erasure, and the striking out of particular words are some methods used to alter an instrument. Since there must be a change in the meaning or language of a document, retracing an original writing—as when a figure written in pencil is retraced in ink—is not an alteration.
Time of Alteration
A modification in a document before its completion is not an alteration. The parties are bound to review the document and to have agreed upon its terms before executing it. In order for an alteration to nullify the legal effect of an instrument, the change must be made after its completion.
A material change must be intentionally made. The motive behind the alteration is unimportant. If a mistake or accident causes a change, this is not considered a material alteration, but the document may be reformed or rescinded.
The Person Making the Change
The change to the instrument must be made by a party or someone authorized by him or her to do so. No change made by a third person without the consent of either party to the document will invalidate it if its original terms can be learned. When a material alteration is made by a party to commercial paper, such as a check or promissory note, the paper will be enforced as originally written against the party who made the changes.
A change in an instrument made with the consent of the parties is binding upon them. Such consensual alteration is usually evidenced by the signing by each party of his or her initials and the date that the agreement to the changes to the instrument was reached.