How to Write a Demand Letter to Resolve a Dispute and Stay out of Court

Updated on September 26, 2016
KoraleeP profile image

Koralee is a retired legal assistant/paralegal turned online writer and author who works part-time as a virtual legal assistant.

A Demand Letter is Your First Step to Resolving a Dispute
A Demand Letter is Your First Step to Resolving a Dispute | Source

If someone owes you money, personally or professionally. Instead of suing them, you can try to solve the problem, with a demand letter. You don’t have to be a lawyer to write a demand letter. In fact, anyone can write one and send it to their debtor to try to resolve the issue without having to go to court.

However, that being said, if your dispute is complex, or the amount of the money involved is high, it is a good idea to get a lawyer to write it for you.

Have you ever been involved in a law suit?

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Small Claims Court – To Sue or Not to Sue

I was a litigation paralegal and legal assistant for 12 years. Now I have my own business providing a variety of writing services. Writing demand letters is one of them. Since I brought up suing above, I want to say a couple of things about that.

First of all, I am not a lawyer, and have no legal training so I can never give anyone legal advice. Just because I worked with lawyers for 12 years doesn’t mean I have ever studied the law, or have the capacity to practice law. My job was to prepare documents, various types of letters, gather and organize data and give client/lawyer support, under a lawyer's direction.

However, I do know this about suing. If the amount owed to you falls under the jurisdiction of small claims court, government agencies and government websites have tonnes of information on how to sue someone in small claims court. If the amount you’re owed is too large to fall under the jurisdiction of small claims court, you have to sue in a higher court so you should get advice from a lawyer.

What is a Demand Letter?

It is a formal notice that demands a debtor to perform a certain legal obligation. This includes rectifying a problem, paying a certain sum, or honoring an agreement. The demand letter also gives the person receiving the letter a chance to perform the obligation.

Writing and sending a demand letter is not suing them. You can decide that as your next step if your debtor doesn’t meet the terms you set out in your demand letter.

A Demand Letter is Not a Guarantee

Writing and sending a demand letter does not guarantee that you will get what you want, and the situation will be resolved. The recipient might ignore your letter, or tell you they will do a specific action as you demanded, to appease you, and then never do it.

What a demand letter does is explain your position, and what you want them to do to rectify it. I have watched a lot of episodes of Judge Judy and The People’s Court. So I can say that a lot of litigation could be resolved, if both parties were clear on what the dispute was, and exactly what the Plaintiff wanted the Defendant to do.

Now we can get into the specifics of how to write a demand letter.

The Tone, Style and Goal of a Demand Letter

Tone: Write your letter in a professional direct and firm way. Don't be overly nice, but also don't be hostile.

Style: As with any writing, remember who you're writing the demand letter to. Use this as a guide for the working you will use. You want to make sure they understand your letter.

Goal: The goal of your demand letter is to convince who you're writing to that its in their best interest to settle with you, by using facts.

Confirm Delivery

After writing the letter, sign it and make a copy. Send the original letter to the recipient, and keep the copy. Send the letter in a way that you can confirm that you sent it and they received it, such as certified or registered mail.

More Tips on How to Write a Demand Letter from Attorney Robert Todd

What to Include in a Demand Letter

After the recipient reads your demand letter, they should:

  • Understand your issues clearly
  • Know exactly what you want them to do.

Your Demand Letter Must be:

  • Reasonable, and your terms need to be fair.
  • Clear, concise, to the point, and written in plain English. Ideally, a demand letter should only be one to one and a half pages long.
  • Polite, and don’t attack them personally.
  • Your letter should never use inflammatory language, or misstate facts.

Include the Following in your Letter:

There is a sample demand letter at the end of this article.

  • The date and the contact information for yourself and who you’re writing the demand letter to.
  • How the letter is being sent, for example: Sent by Certified or Registered Mail
  • Write out “DEMAND LETTER” in the body of your letter (don’t use quotes), to tell who you are writing to what you are demanding, so they can act accordingly.
  • Write “Without Prejudice” (use the quotes) in the upper right hand corner.
  • Summarize the Issue or Problem – Don’t be too wordy.
  • Specify what you’re demanding.
  • Give the recipient a deadline to do what you’re demanding.
  • Tell the recipient what you plan to do if they don’t respond to your demand letter within the time frame you've given them.

A Demand Letter is About Stating Facts, Not Emotion

What Not to Include in a Demand Letter

A demand letter needs to be as honest and as specific as possible. A demand letter should never contain threats or assumptions.

Your emotions are probably running pretty high, particularly if the person who owes you money is a friend or relative. Although, when a business doesn't fulfill their obligations it can be just as frustrating.

A demand letter is not the place to write about feelings. Why?

Because the purpose of a demand letter is to summarize the history, set out issues that have followed after the original agreement or incident, and a proposal (Demand) detailing how you want the issue be resolved. The purpose of a demand letter is not to make sure the person receiving your letter understands that you’re angry, or frustrated.

When to Send a Demand Letter

You can send a demand letter to give the other person a chance to rectify a situation, if they haven’t fulfilled their obligations. However, it is not a prerequisite to taking legal action unless a contract requires it, or if it is legal action on promissory notes.

After you have decided to send a demand letter, don’t put it off - there are deadlines for taking legal action, such as suing them.

Sample Demand Letter

“Without Prejudice”

September 30, 2013

Sent By: Certified Mail

John Doe Address

Dear Mr. Doe:

RE: Our Agreement - Delivery of 10 Cows on August 30, 2013 for $10,000.00


On August 30, 2013 I gave you, as per our agreement, $10,000.00 for 10 cows.

Our Agreement

At the auction we both attended on August 30, 2013, we agreed that I would pay you $10,000.00, and you would deliver 10 cows to my residence at 101 Tranquility Lane on September 7, 2013. As of today’s date, I have not received the cows.

On, or about September 6, 2013, you advised that your driver was in an accident and would not be able to deliver the cows on September 7, 2013. So we changed the date to September 10, 2013.

On September 10, 2013 the cows were not delivered, and I didn’t receive a telephone call explaining why.

To date I have not received a phone call from you, or any contact at all. I have phoned you many times, but each time I call the person who answers can’t speak English.

Accordingly, because I do not have possession of the cows, and have not heard from you, I demand that you:

  • Courier my refund for $10,000.00 by certified check, no later than October 14, 2013 to my home address.

If I am not in receipt of a certified check in the amount of $10,000.00 by the end of business on October 14, 2013 I will commence an action in (the court where you are) without further notice to you.

Yours truly,

Big Mike

Encl (2)

If you have to include enclosures, make sure you refer to them in the letter, and how many you're enclosing.

What You Put in Each Part of the Letter

“Without Prejudice”

The date

Sent By: Certified Mail

Name and Address of the Recipient

Dear Whoever:

RE: What the main focus of the letter is. What transaction lead to you writing the demand letter, or reference numbers.


This is where you summarize what happened, the purpose of your letter, and identify the problem. Use only the facts. Use dates if you can, if you can’t use (on or about). To add more details, use two or more paragraphs in the body of your letter.


Carry on from the introduction and use facts to support your position.

You can use this part of the letter to set out:

  • Dates of meetings, telephone calls, emails, or any other types of contact. But if it has gone on for years, keep it brief or try to summarize the dates. Remember you don't want it to be longer than 11/2 pages long.

Use whatever information and facts you can to prove your position and that you are being reasonable.

Specify what you’re demanding: Use bullet points so it’s easy to read, if you have more than one demand. I demand that you (the action you want them to take).

Give them a deadline: Give them a specific date, or say in two weeks from the date of this letter, or ten days from receipt of this letter, or the end of business on (give a date). Make sure that the date you give is not on a weekend.

What you will do if they don’t comply: Tell the recipient what you plan to do if they don’t respond to your demand letter within the time frame you've given them.

In the footer, type out your name, address, phone number, cell number, and email address.

A Demand Letter Is Worth a Try

Litigation is stressful and time-consuming. If there’s a way to settle a dispute before suing someone, it’s always best to go that route. Some cases take years to settle.

"Litigation is the basic legal right which guarantees every corporation its decade in court." - David Porter

As a writer, have you ever demanded payment from a client? Let us know what happened in the comments

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • If I was injured in a slip and fall, do I need to send adjuster a demand letter?

    I'm not a lawyer and can't give you legal advice, but I will explain how. This is a different type of demand letter than what I am discussing in this article.

    Depending on where you live a demand letter in a personal injury case with an insurance company is usually a negotiation tool. It would detail your injuries (what they were and what they are now), the medical treatment you received and how much they cost out of your pocket, your income loss, and other damages.

    This type of letter would include documentation to back up your claim, and it would conclude with a lump sum amount to settle your claim.


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    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      17 months ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Hi Sywee I apologize for my late reply. I don't see why sending it to three people would be a problem. If it's all legit they would see it anyways.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      Thank you so very much for all your information. I recieved a letter from a paralegal stating she is representing a former tenant demanding her security deposit back.

      The correspondence was recieved via email and stated a certified letter in the mail.

      I replied via email requesting the docements she attempted to reference (i know they do not exist (early termination letter, walkthrough checklist, early terminiation agreement, law reference i do not have a right to expect payment for damage to my property, and the request to repair the fixture she never requested to be fixed).

      I wanted to print my email and send it to the paralegal representing the tenant and the two lawyers in her footer, is that okay to address all three people?

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      19 months ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Hi, I'm really sorry about all the problems you're having. This article discusses a conflict involving a quantifiable sum of money. Although your problems are definitely serious in nature I don't recommend this type of demand letter as a way to demand money for your suffering caused by their animals. You could try calling animal control authorities, the police or sue them in small claims court for their noisy animals being a nuisance that interferes with your use and enjoyment of your home. The way to do this depends on where you live. You can try doing Google searches. Sorry I couldn't be more help, but I hope this helps.

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      Hi , helpful but ,I want an action . I want my hostile neighbors , to get rid of their barking dog , to get rid of their loud howling peacocks, remove the huge pile of sheep dung from their property that is next to my fence and I want them to keep their birds off of my property . How do I pose this letter ? I have suffered for a year , do I just demand compensation for my suffering and my actual costs to try to mitigate the problem . I am confused.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      2 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thank you Lili95. Yes, thank you letters are much nicer to write than demand letters are, but unfortunately they sometimes have to be written. Thank you for your comment and link.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      4 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thank you poetryman6969

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      4 years ago

      Sounds like some good and effective advice.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      5 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thank you DDE for stopping by, and I'm glad you found it useful.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How to Write a Demand Letter to Resolve a Dispute and Stay out of Court interesting, informative and a useful hub indeed. You have created a helpful hub and well researched

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      5 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thank you very much teaches12345. I am very proud of your endorsement of the Hub.

      Sometimes legal topics seem more complicated than they are, and my goal was to make it detailed and easy to understand so readers could follow the steps.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      This was interesting and very informative. I wish I would have had this to share back in the spring as I taught Business Law. It is so detailed and very well written.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      5 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thanks FlourishAnyway! You're right, you just never know when you'll be in a situation where you don't get paid, for your services, or helping someone out.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      Awesome topic and written coverage with an example. Folks need to earmark this because you just never know when you may need it. Voting up and more, plus sharing!


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