Signatures on Legal Documents

Does it really matter how you sign your name?

When signing legal documents, this question frequently comes up—how should I sign my name? There is not a black and white answer to this question, but here are some guidelines.

There are good reasons to sign your name on legal documents the same way your name is listed on government documents, such as your Social Security card or your Driver’s License. If the document is going to be notarized, a notary public may ask to see your identification card to identify you and compare signatures. The goal is to sign your name in a way that will avoid confusion.

There is no law that I am aware of that says you must sign your name a certain way. But title companies, banks and county assessor’s offices often get particular about how documents are signed, especially documents that transfer title to real property.

Below are some general rules that court clerks and title companies have suggested to me. I realize that sometimes these suggestions might conflict with each other. You can choose the one that fits your situation the best.

  • Sign your name the way it is listed on government documents that identify you.
  • Sign your name the same way that it is listed in the heading, the body of the document or the signature line.
  • If you are signing a deed, sign your name the same way that it was written in the deed that transferred the property to you. Sometimes when your name has been written multiple ways on previous deeds, you can state your name and then state, “also known as”, then write your name the other ways that it was written previously.
  • If you have a common name or the same name as a parent, use your full name, with your middle name, or Jr. or Sr. if applicable, to avoid confusion.

Generally speaking, a person is not going to escape liability, or on the other hand a contract or other legal document is not going to be invalidated because you didn’t use your full name, your name is misspelled, or you signed Bill Smith when your name is William Smith.

Signing your name as indicated above will avoid confusion and make it easier for title companies and assessor’s offices to verify your signature.

Tom Packer is an Elder Law Attorney serving all of Southeast Idaho. As part of his law practice, Tom offers Life Care Planning to deal with the challenges created by long-term illness, disability and incapacity. If you have a question about a Senior’s legal, financial or healthcare needs, please call us.

October 2018