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Forget Hamlet. “To Click or Sign, THAT is the Question!”

In daily life today, most of us put our electronic “John Hancock” on the screen every day, whether at the grocery store, drug store or other businesses.  We’re used to it as a perfectly valid way to seal- the-deal for routine retail transactions.

But what about other forms of documents, such as business contracts or wills and trust? Are electronic (no ink, no paper) signatures valid?

The answer is MAYBE.

For more than ten years, the US has been a signator to The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGNA) which makes e-signatures just as valid as the ‘wet signatures’ on paper. “E-signatures” come in many forms, such as:  (1) typing a signature into a space as directed on a form; (2) copying and pasting a scanned versions of the signer’s name; (3) using one of the cryptographic technologies available that scrambles information of the sender and allows the receiver to unscramble; or (4) clicking that ubiquitous, “I ACCEPT” button before software is enabled.

So, the ESIGNA allows business to proceed efficiently with the foregoing methods of “e-signatures.”

But some documents still MUST be signed the old-fashioned way in order to be valid.  What is “old fashioned?”  Using a pen and signing your name on piece of paper. These types of documents include:

  • WILLS, CODICILS AND TRUSTS
  • DOCUMENTS RELATING TO ADOPTION AND DIVORCE
  • COURT ORDERS, NOTICES AND OTHER DOCUMENTS LIKE PLEADINGS AND MOTIONS
  • NOTICES/DOCUMENTS RELATING TO
    • DEFAULT, FORECLOSURE, EVICTION, REPOSESSION
    • CANCELLATION OF HEALTH OR LIFE INSURANCE BENEFITS
    • HEALTH & SAFETY PRODUCT RECALLS
    • TRANSPORTATION OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS

You’ll notice that the above list has a common thread – all the types of documents mentioned pertain to personal, health and safety issues.  And even if you do have that original document, whether you need to provide a copy of that original “wet signature” document for a transaction here or abroad  (from  filing a deed with the county record or  applying for a foreign tax subsidy) will depend on a number of factors, including the intent of the parties.

In today’s marketplace for routine business transactions between private parties, contracts often have a clause that provides: A facsimile copy and signature or electronic signature shall be deemed an original for all purposes herein.

People routinely sign contracts, scan them into their computer and send those scanned signature pages around the globe for counter- signature with the parties honoring the scanned documents as originals.  Keep in mind, however, that you should consult with your lawyer to make sure that your particular document has been properly executed and maybe even notarized or given an “Apostile” status as required for some purposes internationally.