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In general some legal documents must be signed. So what determines whether a signature on such a document requiring to be signed is valid or not?

More specifically, is a signagure that is completely illegible invalid, or does a signer have more or less total latitude to define what their own signature looks like, however legible or indecipherably sloppy? If indecipherably sloppy signatures are acceptable, must there then be at least some clear indication somewhere on the document as to whose identity the signature is meant to convey, like a printed name above or below it?

This would seem to depend in turn on what the purpose of a signature is: authentication seems one very commonly intended purpose in which case it seemingly ought to be possible for a recipient or reader of the document to be able to compare the signature with signatures on other documents that are by the same person as is thought possibly to have signed the document in question.

Or is it to provide accountability so that the document can be certainly ascribed to a certain individual in case there are questions about the document to be addressed to its author/signer? For example, suppose a document is issued in the name of a company, and a director signs the document with their own personal name, but their customary signature happens to be utterly illegible, and the company in fact has multiple directors. In case the document becomes the subject of dispute in later legal proceedings, it seems that one would want to be able to cross examine the signer of the document as a witness in their personal capacity so as to ascertain the authenticity of the document and perhaps their true status as an authorised signatory for the company. In this case, it would be very helpful and indeed inportant to the recipient to be able to know whose signature that is on the document it is in fact intended to be.

So, what are the basic purposes of certain documents requiring signatures, and what makes a signature valid to fulfill these requirements?

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No, it doesn’t have to be legible

It doesn’t even have to be a name, let alone your name.

Most people indicate agreement to a contract by putting their name in a fancy font on the dotted line. However, this method of acceptance is more of a convention than a requirement. The courts have taken quite a broad interpretation to the definition of what can be a signature. It can be any mark on paper that indicates the parties accept the terms of an agreement.

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  • This is in a contractual context. But the question was about legal documents more broadly: for example, some types of statutory notices require a signature by the issuer of the notice. Jan 28, 2023 at 20:14
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The purpose of the signature is to acknowledge final acceptance of the terms of a contract. The signature need not (as Dale points out) even be a name, let alone a legible one.

Basically the signature is what sets the final form of the contract, further amendments are done with addition paperwork, not just reprinting with changes and a new signature.

The signature legibility or consistency is irrelevant, you don’t lose the right to make a contract because your hand has been damaged for instance.

Consistency may be of help in a case of fraud, but it’s actually more likely that other factors will play a more significant role and in any case, it would be a matter for a jury to decide.

If you draw a rabbit and say that’s your mark and you accept the contract, you have accepted the contract. You’ll have better luck saying your identical twin signed it than arguing that the signature is invalid.

If you aren’t committing fraud, you hold up your end of the deal, and it would be crazy to give the other side the power to subsequently declaim their responsibility because they don’t like how you accepted…imagine it, “members of the jury, we acknowledge that the plaintiff handed over 100,000 dollars for a new car, but it must have been a gift, that signature is obviously not adequate and so we have no obligation to turn over the car and will be keeping the money” and the going “hmn, that 'a' does look a bit fishy, ok they can keep the car and money”

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