Under what is called the “statute of frauds” in all states, certain contracts have to be in writing to be valid. Legislatures require these contracts to be in writing because they do not want parties taking advantage of each other. The following is a list of contracts that are required to be in writing to be valid:
- Surety and guaranty contracts – These are contracts where one party agrees to be responsible for another party’s debts. A student loan co-signed by a parent is a good example.
- A contract, for consideration, to marry – Modernly, this rule has been eliminated in many states for policy reasons
- A contract that cannot be fulfilled within one year of the start of the contract – This generally means long terms contracts
- A contract for the sale of goods over $500 or a lease of goods over $1000
- Contract involving the exchange of land or real property, or an interest in real property (such as a lease)
- A contract to give property on or after death
- A contract to sell stocks and bonds
Handwritten, stamped, engraved, electronic pen, and photocopied signatures are all generally adequate to validate a contract unless the circumstances of the contract indicate otherwise. Some states indicate a simple mark or “x” is sufficient as a signature, but if this is an issue in a case, courts will look at all the facts to determine whether both parties intended to enter into the contract. Electronic and email signatures are now valid, but the exact requirements of electronic signatures vary from state to state.
In many instances, yes, as long as the person is authorized to do so. This can occur through the power of attorney, corporate management structure, or ironically yet most commonly, by creating a contract granting a designated person such authorization.
Family members may also be able to sign certain documents in certain circumstances without prior authorization. These documents, however, are typically agreements that a package or notice will be delivered to the proper person, thus relieving the party which delivered the package or notice from legal responsibility. The most significant example of these circumstances is delivering court summons or subpoenas. A spouse or other family member over the age of majority signs the notice that the summons has been received in place of the person summoned, but only to verify that the notice will be delivered to the proper party.
Some contracts require the presence of a witness or witnesses to verify that the document is authentic. The number of witnesses and the relationship(s) the witnesses may have with the signee will differ from contract to contract and from state to state.
For example, most states have laws requiring that at least two witnesses authentic the signing of a will. The two witnesses cannot be named to receive anything in the will. The witnesses will then be required to place their own signatures upon the contract signifying that they have observed the signing of the contract and that the witnesses believe that forgery did not take place.
An Attorney can help you sort out whether your contract needs to be in writing. On the other side of the coin, if you believe a contract you have signed or will sign violates the writing and/or signature requirements you should also contact an experienced business lawyer to help you sort that out.