Your 21st Century John Hancock: The Legal Implications of Electronic Signatures

Throughout the vast majority of history, if you wanted a contract to be legally enforceable, you needed to have all relevant parties sign it to show that they agreed to the terms. With the popularity of the Internet, video conferencing, and other long-distance business deals, however, it has become largely unnecessary to have a traditional signature on documents. Instead, people are able to use electronic signatures (also called digital signatures or e-signatures). These would allow individuals to legally sign documents, without being physically present.

How Does an Electronic Signature Work?


In its simplest terms, an electronic signature is any action where a person puts their name to a document indicating a legal agreement. While this can be as simple as typing your name into a document, that wouldn’t be likely to hold up in court because it is not secure. Fortunately, there are a number of different e-signature options that can help guarantee the security and authenticity of a signature.

These options are typically programs that will display a legal document, and then in the area where the signatures are required, it will have secured features. They may allow the person to use a mouse to “write” out their signature, or use a finger on a touch screen. In some cases it only requires that your name be typed out, but then additional documentation to prove it is you who is signing would be required. This may be the last four digits of your Social Security Number, a copy of your birth certificate, or some other piece of proof. There are also online electronic signature services available that will independently verify your identify, then allow you to digitally sign documents using their service.

Are Electronic Signatures Legally Enforceable?


In most cases, yes, an e-signature can be legally enforceable for any type of legal document. In the US, there has been legislation passed that will help back the legal authority of these types of signatures, and similar laws have been passed in many countries around the world including China, Russia, Australia, and the countries that make up the EU. If you’re doing international business with any of these countries, the e-signature will be valid unless there is some type of problem.

In the US, there are two pieces of legislation that are the foundation for the laws and enforcement of electronic signatures. These documents are the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), and the United States Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN).

Where are Electronic Signatures Unenforceable?


While these digital signatures are legal in the United States, there are certain types of documents where they won’t typically be enforceable. Broadly speaking, they shouldn’t be used in situations where you must be physically present to deal with the legal situation. This would include divorce cases, family law, uniform commercial code, and most court documents. In addition to that, electronic signatures usually don’t hold up in court when used on Wills and other certain other estate planning documents. This is because those documents must be signed by someone who is of sound mind, and that is impossible to evaluate without being there in person.

We Can Help with Questions


If you have any questions about electronic signatures or you want to confirm your e-signature will be valid in a specific case, please contact APH Law.We have experience with electronic signatures and other topics related to Internet law, and we’d be happy to help.