For more than 20 years, electronic signatures (or “eSignatures”) have been recognized by law in the United States. eSignatures are generally granted the same legal weight as handwritten signatures.
What you need to know about eSignature legality in The United States
In the United States, an electronic signature is defined as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”
eSignatures generally carry the same weight as handwritten signatures and are legally enforceable, as long as a few basic requirements are met. These include:
- The parties must show clear intent to sign and consent to electronic signature
- The software used to create the signature must capture the signature process
- Records of the electronic signature must be retained and available
eSignatures in the United States are governed at both the federal and state level. The Uniform Electronic Transactions (UETA) of 1999, which provides detailed regulation for eSignature at the state level, has been adopted in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and several US territories. Illinois and New York have their own electronic signature acts, which are largely similar to UETA. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act of 2000 is the federal law governing eSignatures.
Common eSignature use cases
Electronic signatures are legal and enforceable for most business and legal transactions in the United States. Common use cases include:
- Business and personal contracts, including purchase agreements, service agreements, and employment contracts
- Litigation filings, such as deposition transcripts, medical releases, and settlements
- Transactions such as closing documents, disclosures, legal filings, and NDAs
Use cases where eSignature is not appropriate
In certain situations, traditional handwritten signatures are required to provide an extra layer of protection against fraud or forgery. These include:
- Wills, powers of attorney, and testamentary trusts
- Adoption and divorce agreements
- Court orders and other documents related to court proceedings
- Notice of default, foreclosure, repossession, eviction, or utility termination
- Termination of life or health insurance
- Product recalls and safety notices
- Documents related to the transport or handling of toxic or hazardous materials
In most cases, documents that must be notarized also require a manual signature.
Technology standards in the US
The requirements for digital signature technology vary significantly between countries. The United States takes an open, technology-neutral approach to electronic signature. This means there are no federal laws requiring the use of specific technology for a legally enforceable electronic signature. Other countries—particularly those in the EU, South America, and Asia—follow tiered eSignature models that may require specific technical requirements and/or independent accreditation by a local certification body.
The information on this site is for general education and informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide and should not be considered legal advice. Laws pertaining to electronic signatures may change quickly, so Conga cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information on this site. Consult with a licensed attorney for answers to any specific legal questions on this topic.
Last updated: 08/02/2021