How to Write a Certified Letter

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If you want to contact someone these days, chances are you send a text message or email. In today’s tech-driven world, postal mail seems to be reserved for Amazon packages and Etsy sales. However, there are some instances when postal mail is the most effective at getting things done. This is especially true if someone owes you money or is bad mouthing you in your industry. Certified mail not only requires a signature, thereby creating a legal paper trail, but it also shows the other party that you mean business. There’s an art to the certified mail letter format.

What Is a Certified Letter?

By postal definitions, a certified letter is a piece of mail that requires the recipient to sign a delivery confirmation notice. If the person at the other end isn’t home or the business is closed, the post office will leave a note with further directions. The recipient must pick the letter up within five to seven days. At that point, the postal carrier will leave a second notice. After five to seven additional days, the USPS will make a final delivery attempt before holding it for an additional five to seven days and sending it back. The return letter will have proof of the various unsuccessful delivery attempts.

The delivery process is only one of the questions you probably have about certified letters. Inside that envelope is a letter you’ll have to write, and the certified mail letter format can make a big difference in the results. If the reason for sending mail certified is that you want the recipient to take some type of action, the tone of the letter should be stern yet polite. Often certified mail is used to send something called a demand letter, which is the first step many attorneys take before filing legal action. It simply describes the problem, outlines the recommended steps for resolution and states the next steps you’ll take if the issue isn’t resolved.

Writing a Demand Letter

A plumber took your money and left your pipes in disarray. You performed graphic design work for a client and never got paid. You purchased an appliance from a local store, and they didn’t honor the warranty. In some instances, repeated calls and emails aren’t enough. You need to take serious action. In those cases, knowing how to write a demand letter can achieve amazing results. Sure, you can get an attorney to do it, either locally or through one of the many on-demand legal service websites that have popped up, but that will cost you hundreds of dollars. Additionally, many lawyers won’t agree to write a demand letter unless you retain them for the entire process, from investigating your claim to taking it to court if necessary.

The good news is that it doesn’t take an expert to write a formal demand letter. There are templates online you can use, or you can write your own. The letter format doesn’t matter as much as how you word your demand. You’ll start by stating the facts of what happened. If someone didn’t pay you, cite specific dates when the work was requested and delivered. Detail the terms of the additional agreement and paint a clear picture of how he fell through on his end of the agreement. Your demand letter should also briefly describe your previous attempts to resolve the issue and describe what your demands are, whether it’s payment, a refund or some other recourse. Give a deadline by which you expect the action to take place. Send copies of the letter to anyone you feel should be informed, such as your attorney, the person who could pay you or the CEO of the company, and let all recipients know who’s being copied through a CC beneath your signature.

Registered vs. Certified Mail

What is the difference between registered and certified mail? The two terms can be used interchangeably, but they’re actually two different processes. With certified mail, the post office provides proof of delivery to the sender, allowing you to keep your own records. Registered mail simply means the post office records the transaction in its own databases.

Cost is an important factor in choosing between registered and certified mail. The cost of registered mail depends on the declared value of your item. Since a demand letter has no actual value, that means you’d pay $11.90 in addition to the cost of postage for your letter. Certified mail is much cheaper, especially if you don’t require a signature. No-signature certified mail costs $3.45 in addition to postage. If you want to require a signature, though, you’ll pay $8.55. Since certified mail is not only cheaper but better for you as the sender, it likely will be the best option if you’re sending a demand letter.

What Are the Next Steps?

Hopefully, your certified letter will get the results you want, and you can move on with your life. Unfortunately, though, in some cases you may get no response at all, or perhaps the recipient will respond and either refuse to work with you to resolve things or offer something well below what you demand. In that case, it’s important to consider your options moving forward. Small claims court is an option if the other party is local, or if you’re willing to travel to the defendant’s city on the court date. If the person owes your business money, you can also pursue collections. There are several services that specialize in collecting funds for small businesses, including Rocket Receivables and Summit AR. However, if it’s a personal matter, legal recourse may be your only option.

Although it won’t be cheap, an attorney will likely get you the best outcome. If you’ve already sent the demand letter, be sure to provide that to the lawyer as well as copies of any other correspondence. The less work the attorney has to do to investigate your claim, the less you’ll be billed in hourly fees. An attorney may be able to send an official demand letter, but if that doesn’t work, legal action may become necessary. Another document your attorney may send is a notice of intent to sue, which is required for businesses before filing lawsuits in certain circumstances.

Notice of Intent to Sue

Since these letters must follow federal and/or state law, it’s important to have an attorney handle this for you. You’ll most often see these letters when a company plans to sue a plaintiff. Depending on laws over your jurisdiction, this letter may be required before you can file legal action against someone on behalf of your business. A notice of intent to sue may be required if it relates to medical malpractice, government bodies as defendants or contractual breaches, among other things.

Depending on the nature of the lawsuit, the letter may have very specific requirements for when and how the letter is handled. If it relates to the Clean Water Act, for instance, it must be sent 60 days before a suit is filed. For those in Florida filing a medical malpractice suit, the notice must be sent certified mail with return receipt requested. The notice should include the names of all defendants to be included in the suit, the allegations included in the lawsuit and the award the plaintiff will seek.

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About the Author

Stephanie Faris is a novelist and business writer whose work has appeared on numerous small business blogs, including Zappos, GoDaddy, 99Designs, and the Intuit Small Business Blog. She worked for the State of Tennessee for 19 years, the latter six of which were spent as a supervisor. She has written about business for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2011.