There is a fair amount of debate as to whether or not signatures need to be in cursive, especially considering not all schools in America teach cursive anymore and are potentially leaving a generation without the necessary skills to create cursive signatures.

Others argue that customized symbols (like happy faces or elaborate images) can be just as suitable for a signature.

In this post, we’ll discuss the purposes of signatures in legal contracts and whether or not they have to be in cursive.

What is the Purpose of a Signature?

In a legal context, a signature is your name written in a distinct, personalized form as a way of identifying yourself to authorize a document.

There are two main purposes of a signature in a legal contract:

  1. To identify the person who is a party to the contract
  2. To show that the signing party has read the contents of the document, understands the contents, and consents to the stipulations of the contract

The Case for Signing in Cursive

Traditionally, signatures are in cursive, but it can be argued that it’s not a requirement. One of the most important things about a signature and its authenticity is the signer’s intention when they provide their signature.

This means that with a wet signature (i.e. a signature that is written rather than electronically typed), a person could potentially use their printed (non-cursive) name or even a symbol like a happy face as a valid signature. The purpose is to leave an identifying mark on a document that confirms the identity of the signer and demonstrates their intent to consent to the contents of the document.

However, many people argue that signing in cursive is generally better than using symbols because:

  • Your name can be tied to your identity better than a generic symbol (especially if the signature was made without any witnesses present)
  • A distinct signature in cursive can be harder to forge than most symbols
  • Symbols can create unnecessary complications with a signer’s identity (especially if the other party in the contract has never seen your signature before)

It should also be noted that although you have the choice to create and use a custom symbol (other than your name) as your signature, not everyone has to accept that signature.

For example, if you’re signing a contract with a lender, a bank, or even an employer and are using a symbol, they might be concerned that you are defrauding them with a fake signature or identity. In that case, they might ask for you to sign your legal name.

Is Your Signature Still Legal in a Contract if It’s Not in Cursive?

Although it can depend on your situation, generally a signature does not need to be in cursive to be legal. To execute a contract, one must simply meet the signing requirements of that contract.

For instance, to create a valid Power of Attorney, the document must be signed and witnessed by a notary public. In fact, most legal documents that are submitted to a county recorder require the parties’ signatures to be witnessed and the document to be notarized.

A notary public observes the parties as they sign, and then the notary seals the document to confirm that the named parties in the contract were indeed the ones who signed and consented to the document.

What’s important in this instance is not so much the format or style of the signature but that the signing requirements for the document are met. In other words, the notarization process eliminates any possible doubt about the validity of a party’s signature.

If there is a dispute regarding a signature, a court will typically look at the circumstances of the contract’s signing and the signing parties’ intentions rather than the form of their signature. This means that even if someone signs a contract with a symbol (or even signs with nonsense) they can be held to the contract because it was their intention to sign and agree to the document.

Using Your Signature

Although your signature doesn’t have to be in cursive, you might find it in your best interest to use your name in some form (printed or otherwise) when signing a legal document. You’ll likely avoid unnecessary complications by signing your name because it can be used to identify you more concretely than a symbol or an image.

Posted by Spencer Knight

Spencer Knight is a writer whose nonfiction has appeared in Spinal Columns, The Bolo Tie Collective Anthology: Volume I, and filling Station.