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What does "Antedate" Mean?

By Terry Masters
Updated May 17, 2024
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To antedate, or backdate, is to apply to something a date that has passed. The term is most often used in business matters, in accounting and in conjunction with commercial instruments. Instead of using the actual date on which a contract or check is being signed, for instance, a party to the transaction might choose to use a past date. There are a number of legitimate reasons for a person to use an antedate, though government regulations sometimes affect the legal enforceability of backdated instruments.

Antedating or backdating a transaction often comes with the suggestion of fraud or underlying illegality. After all, many people would see no reason not to use the actual date of the transaction is signing the instrument. Although the practice of antedating transactions has historically formed the basis of corporate, accounting and tax fraud, there are legitimate reasons to use an antedate. For instance, a landlord might give a tenant the keys to an apartment at the beginning of the month but not provide the lease for signing until a week later. In that instance, it would be a legitimate recourse to antedate the contract as of the beginning of the month, rather than use the effective date of signing.

Checks can also use an antedate without affecting the negotiability of the instrument. The U.S. Uniform Commercial Code, for instance, allows for antedating as long as the check is cashed or deposited within six months of the date written. An antedated check can legitimately be used to, perhaps, replace a previously written check that was dated in the past, or to order a party’s paperwork for filing purposes; if backdating is used to attempt to avoid paying taxes, it would be considered fraud and the antedate would be disregarded.

Government agencies sometimes make provisions for a party to antedate a claim when a filing deadline for benefits is at issue. If the party can demonstrate a good reason for not filing within the deadline, the law can legitimately allow the claimant to backdate the claim or application for eligibility. Again, there is a stark difference between using an antedate pursuant to a legal remedy and using it to fraudulently present a claim that has expired.

Perhaps the most sensationalized use of antedating that can be legitimate but is sometimes fraudulent and carries a public presumption of fraudulence is the corporate practice of backdating employee stock options. Major corporations often provide employee incentives by enabling them to buy stock with options dated at a point in the past when the stock was listed at a lesser price than it is currently. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service allows this practice as long as it is not used to avoid taxes or defraud shareholders.

The word “antedate” has a simple meaning and legitimate uses. The practice does not invalidate an instrument or a transaction on its own, but merely affects how long the instrument or transaction remains valid. The most important thing to remember about the use of an antedate is that even legitimate uses sometime come with the stigma of fraud, because the practice has often been misused for illegal purposes.

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