What You Should Know Before Signing A Legal Document

“Written in stone” is a phrase believed to originate from a Babylonian law code written in the 1770s and is often used to describe a signed and notarized legal document. Under this ancient law code, something written in stone means it cannot be changed although in today’s context, a legal document can be changed under certain circumstances albeit with some degree of difficulty.

In lieu of an extended discussion on the do’s and don’ts prior to affixing your signature on a legal document, here are the most commonly asked questions and their corresponding answers.

What do I need to present when signing a legal document?

Aside from your physical presence before witnesses, the other party, and a notary public, you should have at least 2 valid IDs, preferably government-issued.

What’s the first thing I should do when presented with the document?

First of all, read the document carefully. Even if a draft copy was sent to you earlier, do not assume that it is the same document without any changes. If you can have a lawyer with you to review the document, this would be even better especially for contracts involving sale, transfer, or disposal of high-end items, employment contract, prenuptial agreements, trusts, and last will and testaments.

Remember to take your time and avoid being pressured by others to get it done simply because they want it “over and done with.” If need be, ask for more time to go over the document.

What does “capacity to contract” mean?

Capacity to contract is a legal term that refers to a person’s ability to understand the seriousness ofsigning a legal document. Age and mental impairment are 2 reasons why a person may not be eligible to sign a legal document. Under the law, anyone under 18 years of age is not allowed to sign legal documents without the approval of the parent(s) or guardian. The exception to this is when a child is legally emancipated from his parents and given the right to make decisions on his own.

Can I sign my initials?

Ideally, both parties should sign the contract with their full signature on the page after the terms are enumerated. Other pages of the contract can be initialed. If only initials are used, there may be window of opportunity for the contract or agreement to be declared unenforceable, depending on the circumstances.

In cases where one party is mentally stable but physically unable to sign a contract, a mark like a thumbprint is accepted. Furthermore, it is imperative that any mark must be witnessed by third parties as it is being executed. The reason for the signature is to provide room for authentication and not just as a symbol of approval and acceptance of the terms.

Are digital signatures legal?

In the U.S. digital signatures are legally acceptable because of 2 Acts that were passed. These were the ESIGN which was approved in 2000 and the UETA in 1999. However, not all digital eSignatures are acceptable so when using a digital solution, find out first if it is ESIGN compliant.

Should the legal document ever have to be examined in court, the digital signatures will have to be authenticated since the risk of forgery is higher with the existing technology like scanners and computers. Also, some legal documents cannot use digital signatures like last will and testaments, divorce notices, and court documents.

When can a legal document be challenged?

There are certain situations where a legal document can be challenged and unenforceable. A few examples are:

If a person is forced to sign the document

If the person is drunk or under the influence of drugs

And if the person or both parties misrepresent themselves.

Can a legal document be cancelled?

Yes, this is possible under 2 situations:

One, both parties agree to cancel the agreement or contract and two, the court allows it. Otherwise, a legal document remains binding for as long as it is within the period of validity. However, you can always request a lawyer to find a way out of a contract.