25

I have a question as to whether or not legal documents signed in non standard pen colors (Anything other than blue or black) are valid.

I carry a purple pen around that use for everyday writing tasks, and when I was going to sign a document, someone told me that writing in purple is not valid on legal documents.

If the document does not specify that a certain pen color be used, is this true?

  • 1
    Anecdote: when signing my home purchase, I was "required" to sign in blue (not black) ink. The fountain pen I wanted to sign with had black ink. When pushing further, I found it was a corporate policy, not legal, and as based around making it more obvious which was the original and which was a photocopy. They let me sign in black when they saw how utterly different fountain pen ink was from toner. Nobody could make a mistake. – Cort Ammon Mar 24 at 22:05
  • Nobody will make a mistake, and it will have consequences somewhere down the line. In a corporate environment, some helper might be told "shred everything that hasn't a non-black signature on it, by policy we know it is a photocopy, we no longer need the photocopies". – rackandboneman Mar 25 at 17:24
  • @rackandboneman That policy sounds... improbable. And if such an organization would commit such an act of information retention malpractice, they'll rightly get the disdain of people affected by it. – Sarah Szabo Mar 26 at 4:59
32

No, Specific Ink Colors are not Required

That is not correct. If the purple will not photocopy well, the other party might reasonably ask for a color that will. But a signature is normally only evidence of agreement to the provisions, and it is the agreement that is legally important. The color of the ink used does not change the agreement.

It is normal to expect a signature to be in a permanent ink. A signature in pencil or erasable ink might be legal, but the other party will not want to accept it, and it would be reasonable to comply.

  • 3
    I'd like to point out that it's probably a bad idea to sign in pencil anyway, since it might smudge. If you want to prove something was definitely you later, you're going to want something immutable. – Riker Mar 23 at 22:03
  • 2
    In addition to smudging, that @Riker mentions, pencil also fades surprisingly sooner than you may think, depending on environmental conditions and paper. I've had pencil fade (to about 25% the original darkness) after only five years, in a notebook under regular household conditions. I've even had ostensibly-weatherproof eXtreme Sharpie permanent markers fade after a single winter outdoors. Another reason people care about ink color is because old Xerox machines would explicitly not scan red ink, so that may still be in the public conscious without people knowing the "why not" reasoning. – Jamin Grey Mar 24 at 1:51
  • I should just mention for the record that my violet pen has ink specifically designed to not fade over time. It's actually a rather nice one at a reasonable price and is in my favorite color. – Sarah Szabo Mar 24 at 2:51
  • @JaminGrey There are copiers and scanners to this day which are designed to ignore a certain range of light blue shades. They even manufacture pens and pencils specifically designed with this color for the purposes of marking up documents in a non-copyable way. (I have to assume this is an optional feature, since people you can scan and copy photographs which may contain any range of colors.) – Darrel Hoffman Mar 25 at 14:49
  • @DarrelHoffman, I believe you are referring to non-photo blue. – JPhi1618 Mar 25 at 15:41
16

My best advice: purple ink is fine, unless they object, then find a color you both agree to.

Everything past this point assumes an adverse relationship. Think about the dismal shape of things. A contract is a meeting of the minds. A contract-breaking dispute has arisen over the color of ink on the contract. Anti-purple is saying the contract is not signed, so is invalid. If parties' willingness to work with each other falls apart over the color of signature ink, that clouds the "meeting of minds", especially since I'll be excluding every other cause, read on.

But conduct is everything, which means context is everything. Which makes it impossible to give a generic answer. It is about the galaxy of facts particular to this case. First we must look at conduct:

  • Both parties' conduct before the signing (do they act like people wanting to make a deal?)
  • both parties' conduct after the signing (are they fulfilling their part of the contract?)

If both parties acted like they wanted a deal, and then acted to perform the contract in the normal matter, then they accepted the signature, period. They can't accept then reject it.

Their only hope would be, starting at the moment of signing, to act like the signature is invalid. Absolute refusal to fulfill the contract, mailing you copies of the contract and asking you to sign them, doing that and including a nice black pen, a certified letter that the contract is not valid, stuff like that. They must continuously look, walk and quack like someone who did not accept your signature.

Further, the galaxy of facts must make it apparent that they (and you) have no ulterior motive, especially not an unlawful one.

  • It's medical insurance and you just got diagnosed with a million dollar disease.
  • They ran your credit 5 minutes after you signed and found it to be 340, (and that should have been part of pre-signing due diligence and it's too late now).
  • Now that they've met you, they realize they must build a $6000 wheelchair ramp.

Those would indicate a deal that should be enforced, or voided with compensation because anti-purple is acting in bad faith.

Conversely purple-signer must have no ulterior motive. If they used purple because it is a racial, cultural, religious etc. insult to the counterparty, that paints a picture of a signing that is a pretense-to-insult and not a proper meeting of the minds (which could be rebutted by purple's genuine business needs, e.g. If purple is building a solarium and the contract is for glass to their needed dimensions).

Other than that, you have a demented ego battle between very, very petty counterparties. If they refuse to settle, that is effectively both asking a judge which party needs a legal smackdown, and the judge is likely to give a candid and inclusive answer.

  • 2
    This answer is more about prqacticalities than legalities, it seems to me. I don't disagree with it. I definately agree that it is better to avoid hostility in a working relationship, and nthat the color of ink used is not normally a good reason to disrupt such a realtionship. Other answers have focused on abstract legalities: Does purple ink void the contract? This answer is focused on what might be done in a real-world situation, and of course no answer can deal with all possible complexities, as this one says. – David Siegel Mar 24 at 14:31
  • @DavidSiegel this answer is a legal argument concerning the question Does purple ink void the contract? The point here is that it is generally the business of the parties to a contract what does or doesn't void it, and a party can make ink color a crucial element of this sort but must adhere to some very particular conduct (what you term "practicalities") to do so. That seems wholly relevant. – Will Mar 25 at 9:52
  • Is medical insurance being introduced as a hypothetical in this answer? I went back and read question history trying to find where it's coming from – Joshua Mar 25 at 16:10
  • @Joshua yes, I just introduced it as an example of bad faith, as I did the wheelchair ramp. – Harper Mar 25 at 18:47
8

someone told me that writing in purple is not valid on legal documents.

This is likely a misconception since most forms say use blue or black ink, but there is no law regulating a valid signature. In the US you can sign with an "X", a fingerprint, a yellow crayon if so inclined, a wax stamp, pencil, or even invisible ink* as long as it is meant to show valid acceptance. The objective is to demonstrate that you have agree to the terms in the agreement. Now the contract could stipulate blue or black in for valid acceptance of the agreement but this is on part of the offering party and must be stipulated prior to acceptance, not part of the law.

*Invisible ink may fail the communication requirement for contracts unless the other party is made aware of how to inspect the signature such as examination under UV light.

Also see a related answer for a related question.

1

Contracts, as a general rule, don`t even have to be written to be valid. But, some have to be because a law very often exists requiring this. The color ink used is normally irrelevant to its validity, unless the contract states otherwise or a statute (law). Courts usually have local rules requiring signatures on all documents be in either blue or black ink, but most banks will accept a signature on a check signed in any color.

  • That's an interesting point; contracts don't even need to be on paper. It's a disaster if it's a small person-person contract, because then it becomes "he said she said". But consider a service like DirecTV, where you should know all customers get a boilerplate, take-it-or-leave-it contract. If you refuse to sign, yet behave in all respects like a customer, the conduct proves the meeting-of-minds on the coarse points at least. (Maybe not the gory details; Leodori v Cigna). – Harper Mar 24 at 14:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.