A scenario:

You pay someone with a cheque for something, receiving a receipt for it. They do not cash in the cheque.

What is the ettiquette for this situation? Are you to go on living your life, mentally subtracting the amount of the cheque from your bank account, reserving enough money for that cheque to be perhaps paid off.

What happens after 5, 10, 25, 50 years? Can they "lose" the cheques, then come to you, asking for new ones, saying you owe it to them?

I can see within a year that you probably owe it to them, but after time goes on, it seems I personally see it as less of an obligation. It ends up being a very large hassle after awhile. Especially if the sum is large.

EDIT: as asked for in the comments, my country is Canada.

  • 3
    You need to specify a country - different countries will have different laws about this. Jul 2, 2015 at 7:25
  • To play it safe, you could always issue a "stop payment" after a certain amount of time has passed.
    – user1731
    Jul 3, 2015 at 3:02

3 Answers 3


Checks actually have a limited lifespan before the bank no longer has to honor them, which simplifies this question. After about 6 months you assume that check won't be cashed. If they find it after that, you write them a new check. If they don't, you really should pester them to do so.

  • 1
    The trouble is that it is in the bank's discretion to honor the check. Many won't, but I'd hate to risk being overdrawn because one decided to.
    – JohnFx
    Jul 2, 2015 at 16:37
  • 1
    Usual practice is to have them mail you the old check so you can void it s=and replace it with the new check. If they can't find it, you can tell your bank not to honor the old check; there is usually a fee for that service.
    – keshlam
    Jul 2, 2015 at 17:31
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    @ghanima: correct, but the honorable thing to do -- since they deserve the money and it costs little or nothing -- is to replace the elapsed check with a new one.
    – keshlam
    Jul 3, 2015 at 2:21
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    @Ghanima It probably varies by country, but in most cases, I suspect that, legally-speaking, giving a cheque will not be the same as handing over currency – it will not in itself discharge the debt (that would probably only happen once the cheque has cleared). If a cheque were presented in a timely fashion, and failed to clear, you would still be liable for the debt. If the recipient doesn't process it in a timely fashion, and it then isn't honoured because it's too late, is probably more variable (but I'd guess the debt still exists in most places).
    – TripeHound
    May 2, 2018 at 8:51
  • 1
    @TripeHound, tbh I never really understood the "benefits" of cheques (I only see the additional effort there). If you did your part, i.e. handing over the cheque, I would really expect to be "off the hook" (unless the cheque bounces of course, or there is something that is really your fault). So again, I don't see what one gains by using cheques... but that's a question in its own right (and one that has been asked and answered here very likely).
    – Ghanima
    May 2, 2018 at 18:28

In Canada a cheque is "stale" after 6 months. There is a risk it will be dishonoured. Ask you bank or refer to their website. They have no obligation to pay, it will be paid as a courtesy perhaps.

Certified Cheques and other pay on demand instruments are not necessarily treated the same way.

You should accept the need to provision for unpresented cheques and balance the account as your forebears did.

This used to be something taught in schools.


While it is true that cheques in certain countries go stale and cannot be deposited after a certain time, this is not the primary method you should use as the payer to know that the funds definitely won't be taken from your account anymore.

Firstly, the relevant date is written on the cheque itself, which you no longer have. You may have written in on the stub too (if you have stubs), but if you made a mistake writing the date on the cheque or left it blank/ambiguous, then you have no way of knowing. Furthermore, the payee may already have deposited the cheque at their bank before the expiry date but a delayed processing may hold up the funds being paid for some reason. Or, the payee's bank may agree to try and initiate such processing despite the date. Further, there are some cheque types or cheque-like payment instruments that have no such expiry date or have a much longer one.

If you need to be sure, you contact the issuing bank (your bank) and request a stop payment be placed on the cheque, and wait to confirm that it was successfully stopped. Banks being what they are, probably charge a fee for this.

If you still have the cheque in your possession or it's returned to you, of course, then you can destroy it yourself and be confident that it can't be deposited.

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