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In Law, what is Self-Executing?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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Self executing in law refers to the immediate effectiveness of things such as a document, contract and legislation without any required court action. Court rulings and statues also can be self-executing, in which case there is no indication that a law must make it operative. The term includes reference to rules and regulations in an agreement that allow for certain specified results or responses to be effective immediately or to automatically follow. Most judgments such as those made in a court of small claims are not self-executing because they generally provide the winning party only with the legal right to collect for losses or damages.

Constitutional provisions are not always self-executing; it depends on how they read. If they simply declare principles or policies without detailing the means that are permitted to actually carry them out, or if the wording is targeted to the legislature, they are not deemed self-executing. For example, an agreement between an employer and an employee that merely states that an employee shall not miss more than a specified number of days from work is not necessarily self-executing. The means by which the situation with the employee will be handled also would have to be present in the document to allow for an automatic disciplinary action to be taken against him or her.

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Other examples of statues and legal rights that could be self-executing include those that are provided in documents such as loan agreements. A person who borrows a large sum of money from a lending institution will often use their house as collateral to secure the loan. Vehicles and other valuable possessions also can be used for securing some loans, depending on the policies of the lending institution. Securing a loan is a way of assuring the lender that he or she can collect his or her money if the borrower fails to repay the loan and any interest charged. The contract or agreement between the borrower and lender might allow the title of ownership held by the borrower to legally pass automatically and without court action to the lender if the borrower fails to make payments.

The example situation with the borrower and lender in which the automatic transfer of title of ownership takes place would have involved a self-executing legal right. Failure to understand the full legal definition of self-executing could result in taking automatic action behind a breach of contract that might not be legally permitted. It usually is advisable to consult with an attorney before entering into any agreement or contract.

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