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7 FAQ’s About Signing Documents Online 

We often get questions about what an esignature is and how to sign documents online. Some of our most frequently asked questions are shown below.

#1: E-signing: Does typing your name on a form and clicking submit hold up as a legal signature?

No. There are a number of e-signature laws across the world, such as ESIGN and UETA, which define what constitute a legally binding esignature. Just typing a name on a form and clicking submit has several issues that prevent it being upheld in a court of law, these are:

  1. Anyone could type a name on a form – for it to be legally binding there must be a way to prove the typed name belongs to the person it represents. For example, in the ApproveMe esignature platform, we use a digital certificate to prove the person signing a document, is who they say they are. Digital certificates are issued by certificate authorities (CA); CA’s check who you are when they issue the certificate. The certificate then becomes a digital version of you.
  2. When you electronically sign a document online the document needs to be tied to the signature itself. This makes sure that if anything changes in the document, for example, someone changes a clause from “I will pay $1000” to “I will pay $100” the change will be spotted.
    Simply typing your name into a document cannot tie the signature to the document. You need to have specialist software like ApproveMe to ‘hash’ the document content. Hashing the document creates a unique ‘fingerprint’ – if the document changes, you’ll be warned as your signature will become invalid and an event of the change will be captured.

#2: How can e-signatures or online signatures mean anything?

The introduction of e-signature laws that gave legal weight to electronic signatures added meaning to them. E-signature laws such as ESIGN and UETA in the USA, and EU Directive 1999/99/EC in Europe outlined the legal requirements of electronic signatures making them as valid as wet (handwritten) signatures.

But it wasn’t until the development of usable esignature software, like ApproveMe, that electronic signing came into its own. Specialist signing solutions allow you to make document signing part of a business process.

#3: What is the legal difference between a person’s initials and signature?

Adding initials to the pages of a contract is not a legally binding signature that shows you agree to the terms of the contract. The addition of initials on a page shows that you have read that page of the document. Adding initials is a good tool for preventing the inclusion of pages that have not been agreed – for example after a contract is signed. Adding an actual signature (whether ink on paper or electronic signature) is a statement of agreement to the terms and promises of the document / contract.

7 FAQ’s about how to sign documents online

#4: Can a person have more than one type of signature?

You can have as many signatures as you like, but on any given document you should stick to the type of signature best suited to that document. So, a hard copy document would require a handwritten (wet) signature, and an electronic document signed online would require a legally binding esignature.

It may be that you require multiple signatories on a single document. In principle you could have a mix of wet and electronic signatures. However, in practice this is not ideal. You should always apply the same rules for the type of signature applied to all parties. This will remove any discrepancies between the signatures. For example, if esignature’s are applied, then audit rules, and document hashing methodologies are applied uniformly.

#5: What if someone can no longer write his or her signature?

If you find that you can no longer write your signature, for example, you may become disabled and lose the use of your hand, there are alternatives that can be used.
The trick it to have a notary or other legal entity ‘attest a mark’. That is an alternative to a wet signature is allowed for this individual. This could be an X, or a fingerprint, or some other mark. As long as a legal entity, such as a notary has attested that the individual is the person making the mark, it will be the equivalent of a hand written signature.

If the person could use a computer, then an electronic signature would also be an option, as the sign documents online often involves a simple click or the addition of a mark.

#6: What is meant by a wet, digital and electronic signature 

A wet signature is one made using a pen on hard copy paper
A digital signature is the process by which a document is signed online. That is the software creating the digital signature performs a routine to create a signature. This usually involves creating a hash of the document content so that any changes can be easily identified. It also has a mechanism for then ‘signing’ that hashed content (usually using a digital certificate).
An electronic signature can be anything that constitutes an online mark, like a symbol or an image of your signature. Electronic signatures don’t have the security of a digital signature, as they don’t create a hash of a document, or tie the signature to the document itself.
Products, like ApproveMe which allow you to sign documents online, use a combination of the security of digital signature technology, with the ease of use of electronic signatures.

#7: Does my online signature have to be identical to my handwritten signature?

No: In fact, the ESIGN e-signature law, which sets out the legal requirements for an electronic signature states that a signature can be:
“an electronic sound, symbol, process attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record and be legally bound.”