The world is growing increasingly “paperless” as more documents move into digital spaces. People born in this decade might only know terms like “sign on the dotted line” and “before the ink is dry” as something their grandparents would explain. Without hard copies of important documents, though, our legal system needs new ways to indicate that a person has agreed to a contract. Now, electronic signatures (a/k/a “digital signatures” or “e-signatures”) provide evidence of assent without the need for a pen and printer. Federal and state laws, such as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (E-SIGN) Act, establish standards for proving the legitimacy of electronic signatures. In real estate transactions, electronic signatures are allowed in any situation where the law does not specifically require otherwise.
What Is an “Electronic Signature”?
The E-SIGN Act defines an electronic signature as any “electronic sound, symbol, or process” that meets the following criteria:
1. It is “attached to or logically associated with” a document (e.g., contract); and
2. The person who “executes or adopts” it intends to do so.
Electronic signatures are possible with hardware, such as the signature pads at many retail checkout counters; and software, such as the signature features in applications like Adobe Acrobat or services like DocuSign. The signature must meet the standards set by federal or state laws and an electronic signature must be acceptable for that document.
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