England and Wales
Certain types of documents are not legally binding unless they are made in the form of deeds. Most commonly, the sorts of documents that need to be deeds are transfers of land, some leases or Tenancies, mortgages, Powers of attorney, Wills and certain business agreements (eg Shareholders' agreements, Partnership agreements and even some Employment contracts).
Whilst most contracts are only valid if some value (usually money) transfers between the parties, value doesn’t have to pass between the people making the deed for it to be valid. In fact, you can even have a deed binding on one person only (called a 'deed poll').
The time limit for bringing a claim under a deed is generally double the time limit for an ordinary contract (12 not 6 years).
Special rules about signature (or 'execution') apply to deeds; moreover, a deed has to be executed and delivered to be valid – see more on this below.
A deed will make it clear on its face that it is a deed and the parties will sign it 'as a deed'.
While deeds do not have the same meaning as they do in England and Wales, they nevertheless have certain characteristics associated with them. In Scotland, a deed must show an intention to create legal relations and should have a certain level of formality.
Most commonly, the term ‘deed’ is used to refer to formal documents which are not required to be in writing but which are, in practice, executed in accordance with the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995. Examples of this are trust deeds and deeds of assumption.
To execute a deed the formalities to execute other documents as set out in the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 are met. These include:
whether witnesses are required
who can act as a witness
how to sign the document
where the parties must sign