The legal world has an obsession with these lovely little words that, while sounding really special and important to those outside the profession, they really mean something which is actually quite mundane.
Take the word ‘caveat’ for instance. The word, originating from 16th Century Latin, translates directly to mean ‘let a person beware’. In other words, or to put it more colloquially, it simply means to give someone ‘a heads up’. Exciting? Mysterious? Not really. In fact, a lot of Law is really just old words dressed up to mean very ordinary things.
Legally speaking, caveats can be put in place to give notice to the fact that an individual has an ‘interest’ in a piece of property. In the broadest sense of the term a caveat might be used to express an interest in another form of asset (a business, shares or a car) although within the State of South Australia (at least) caveats are used for land, and any interest outside of this that you wish to seek protection for, needs to be expressed via an application to the Court. Having said this, there is one other kind of caveat used in South Australia, that being a caveat against a Grant of Probate or, Letters of Administration; documents enacted when a person dies.
It is a common misunderstanding that caveats are used whenever money is owed. The most important thing to be aware of is that a caveat can only be used when there exist a very real relationship with a piece of land. Typical scenarios might include, where a person claims to have contributed to the purchase or maintenance of land (most commonly after a relationship breakdown), where a second mortgage is undertaken, in the case of unregistered leases, by government authorities (to recoup unpaid taxes or rates), or in the situation where a child may inherit land and a parent will require substantial (and ongoing) assistance and financial support.
In a nutshell, a caveat has the capacity to prevent future dealings from taking place. For example, it can prevent the sale or transfer of land and the grant of Probate cannot be made. Accordingly, and in order for a caveat to operate effectively (and offer you any protection) it must be applied in a timely manner. Caveats are not something you want to put off. Any delay could result in the very thing you are hoping to avoid occurring.
Assuming that the shoe is on the other foot; what happens if someone has placed a caveat on YOUR property? There is always the possibility that you can warn the caveat (seek to have it removed) or, you can make an application to the Court seeking the forcible removal of the caveat. Once again, timing is everything; seek advice promptly with a skilled legal practitioner.
Still confused? Where caveats are concerned it is always prudent to seek the advice of a solicitor who has experience in the fine nuances of this aspect of law.