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What is an Acceptable Signature for use on a US legal Document?

Can you tell somebody’s name by looking at their signature.  For most people, the answer is no.  Most folks write their signature so quickly that it appears more like a series of indecipherable scribbles than a person’s name.  However, when writing your signature on an important document such as a will, power of attorney, contract, or any other legal document, the last thing you want is for the clerk of courts to question whether the person who signed the document is in fact the person whose name appears in print on that document.  There is no law that defines what your signature should look like.  But in order to avoid confusion for yourself, your attorneys, the clerk of courts, and others, here are a few best practices to follow when writing your signature.

First, you should avoid using anything that is not clearly a letter in the English language alphabet.  Many US citizens and permanent US residents do not use English as their first language.  You may have spent most of your life writing your signature using symbols that are not contained in the English language alphabet.  However, it is important to remember that all legal documents and court proceedings in the US legal system are in English.  Whether you have a passport, green card, temporary work authorization, or any other immigration document, your name appears in English language alphabet characters only.  Therefore, if you sign your name using a character or symbol that is not a part of the English language alphabet, then your signature does not match what appears on your identification.  Doing so can cause confusion for the clerk of courts, for your attorneys, and for whoever notarizes your signature.  If you sign a last will and testament that details how your assets will be divided upon your death, the last thing you want is for the clerk of courts to delay the administration of your estate because he or she cannot verify that your signature matches the name that appears on your identification.  Therefore, it is important not to use any symbol or character that is clearly not a letter in the alphabet when writing your signature on a legal document.

Next, it is important to make sure that your signature show your full name as it appears on any government issued identification.  You may not be accustomed to writing or saying a first and last name.  But whether you have a passport, green card, driver’s license, social security card, or any other government issued identification, your ID probably shows a first and last name.  When applying for an ID from the federal government, you are asked to provide a first, middle, and last name.  While not everyone is expected to provide a middle name, applicants for passports, green cards, and other federal ID’s are expected to provide a first and last name.  Further, HR 1268 or the “REAL ID Act” mandates that state issued ID’s meet certain requirements.  One requirement is that, starting October 2020, the name that appears on your state government issued ID matches the name that appears on your federal government issued ID.  Further, NCGS 20-7 states that a North Carolina driver’s license must show a person’s full name.  Hence, your driver’s license and your passport or green card should all show a first and last name.  Therefore, it would be unwise for you to write your signature in a way that does not attempt to depict a first name and last name.  Failure to do so can lead to significant confusion for the clerk of courts, your attorney, and anyone who handles documents signed by you.

Finally, it is best to use the same version of your middle name (if you have one) that appears on your ID in your signature.  For instance, if you are referred to as “John C Doe” on your North Carolina driver’s license, you probably should include the middle initial C in your signature.  Your attorney may ask you to sign two versions of your name; one with only the C and one with your middle name spelled out.  Generally, the clerk of courts main concern will be that your first and last names look similar to how your name appears on your ID.  However, it is best to try to maintain uniformity with your middle name or initial as well.

Generally, your signature should have some resemblance to how your name appears, in English language letters, on your government issued ID.  Do not use letters that are not part of the English language alphabet, sign your first and last name, and use the same version of your middle name that appears on your ID.  Doing so will eliminate confusion for you, your family, your attorneys, and the clerk of courts, and it will save time and stress for your family in the future.