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Significance of email signature and transferring property

Image of computer keyboard with one key replaced in pink by an envelope icon representing an email signature

The recent decision in Hudson -v- Hathaway [2022] EWCA Civ 1648 highlights that an email signature was sufficient for a party to transfer their beneficial ownership in a property.  

The two parties, Mr Hudson and Ms Hathaway started a relationship in 1990, following which Mr Hudson moved into Ms Hathaway’s property and became a joint owner. They went on to purchase a different property together in 2007, with a mortgage and in joint names, with no declaration of trusts. Following the birth of their two sons, Mr Hudson’s income overtook Ms Hathaway’s and when the relationship broke down in 2009, the mortgage was changed to interest only and was paid for by Mr Hudson due to his higher earnings. In 2015, Ms Hathaway took over the mortgage payments.

Following the breakdown of the relationship, there were several e-mail exchanges which took place between November 2011 and September 2013. Each party held various assets, which, between them, they sought to divide.  This included the property, which they agreed Ms Hathaway would have.  All these e-mails were signed off by their first names – Jayne and Lee – typed at the bottom of the emails. The legal case revolves around whether signing off the electronic correspondence with their names constituted an email signature. Following the separation Mr Hudson emailed Ms Hathaway to confirm “under this arrangement I’ve no interest whatsoever in the house”.  

Subsequent to the above email there were delays which caused Mr Hudson to lose his patience with the transaction and he sought to force matters by ceasing to pay the mortgage payments in 2015, and issued a claim for a Order for Sale for 50% of the proceeds. 

Ms Hathaway’s case claimed that she relied upon the agreement reached in their emails by stating that Mr Hudson had transferred his beneficial interest to her by way of release of equitable ownership by sending the email and that the email signature took effect as a disposition under Section 53(1)(c) of The Law of Property Act 1925, which states  “a disposition of an equitable interest or trust subsisting at the time of the disposition, must be in writing signed by the person disposing of the same, or by his agent thereunto lawfully authorised in writing or by will.” The Court concluded that typing of “Lee” amounted to his signature to the email. 

This case, along with subsequent cases, are now leading to substantial authorities that deliberately subscribing one’s name to an email amounts to an email signature and as most correspondence is now via email the significance of this cannot be underestimated. 

For more information, or advice on email signature and transferring property, contact the Hibberts team here.

John Gibbons

Solicitor, Head of Agriculture

John is Head of the Agriculture Department and qualified as a Solicitor in 2001 having attended Staffordshire University Law School.John says “Our role in the agricultural department is unique in that it involves agricultural law with business, property, and estate planning. It is very interesting and rewarding.In 2016, John became a Fellow of the Agricultural Law Association by completing the examinations in London.John attends annual specialist conferences and continual profession development courses to keep up to date with the latest legal developments.