The Ultimate Guide to Legal Electronic Signatures

Your autograph. Your name scribbled on the dotted line. Your John Hancock.

No matter what you call it, your unique signature is a pretty powerful thing. It has the power to transfer money from a checking account, to sincerely punctuate a love letter, and to vote new laws into existence. Your signature can turn a plain old piece of paper into a legally binding document–the bridge between a promise made and a promise kept.

Up until a few years ago, signing anything–a check, a banking document, a letter, an affidavit, etc– all required your hand and a pen. As long as your autograph was genuine, any document you signed was legally binding. As technology brings us faster, easier ways for businesses and individuals to communicate, the transfer of legal documents has shifted from snail-mail to email. Certificates, manuals, forms, and contracts have moved from paper to digital format. Clunky filing cabinets are being replaced by cloud storage and digital backup systems, and digital signatures are now swiftly taking the place of hand-written ones.

But many of you have been left wondering: is my digital signature as good as the real thing?

The answer is yes. And, here’s why.

Back on June 30, 2000, Congress passed a federal law called the eSign Act, or The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (GPO.gov). Originally created to facilitate the use of electronic records in interstate & foreign commerce, this law makes an electronic signature just as legal as it’s handwritten counterpart. More importantly, eSign Act ensures that no contract or document is denied validity or legality simply because the document, or the signature on it, was delivered electronically.

Now, you might be thinking: what’s the catch? There’s not really a catch, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you move forward using digital signatures or the multitude of eSign software options out there.

  1. Every single state in the U.S. has at least one law pertaining to electronic signatures, but in most cases, the federal eSign act takes precedent. If you are in a particularly rare or complicated eSign situation, be safe and double-check your state laws to make sure you are in compliance.
  2. Also, if your document requires a notary stamp, this means you’ll need to physically sign the document in front of an official Notary Public. This includes land deeds, letters of invitation for foreign travel, living wills & trusts, health care directives, building & zoning applications, etc. Once you and the notary have signed & stamped the document, you’re free to do whatever you want with it.

For more information, read the official Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act as published by the United States Congress.

The eSign Act sounds complicated, but I hope this cleared things up for you. If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below. And, as always, PDFfiller’s eSign technology makes it easy to upload, fill out, legally sign, and send any document with just a few clicks. Click here to start creating legally valid digital signatures.