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E-signatures, or electronic signatures, are replacing their pen-and-paper cousins as a new form of legally valid marks on agreements.
What are the laws governing these e-signatures, and are they always just as good as a written one?
E-Signatures Making Their Mark
An electronic signature, or e-signature, is an electronic marker or token that is attached to an agreement. It indicates your intent to agree or approve the contract to which it is attached, as MakeUseOf explains.
In many cases, this can be as simple as a digital facsimile of your written signature that you attach as part of a PDF or Word document where your signature would normally go.
Services like Adobe's EchoSign can even create documents that allow a recipient to either create their electronic signature with a mouse or stylus, or just by typing in their name.
There are two major laws governing the validity of electronic signatures: the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act ("ESIGN") and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act ("UETA"). But only ESIGN is current, valid federal law.
ESIGN was passed in 2000, and it stipulates that no contract or agreement can be denied or unenforced simply for having an electronic signature.
As for UETA, currently 47 states including California have adopted it into their own laws. These laws allow the use of electronic signatures in private and government contracts.
Limitations of E-Signatures
There are places where an electronic signature won't do, like in certain states where laws require written signatures for wills, trusts, adoption, and divorce documents.
You also won't be able to electronically sign any document to be presented in most courts, although some courts do make use of digital pleading systems that allow for an electronic signature.
The places where e-signatures aren't accepted are dwindling fast, but don't confuse the convenience of electronic signatures with dampening their effect. To make sure an e-signature is legally binding in your specific situation, you may want to consult an experienced contracts lawyer near you.