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Wet signatures: everything you need to know

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Updated on:
June 13, 2023
September 20, 2023
Table of contents

Key Takeaways

  • Wet signatures are needed for a host of legal binding documents but they are not the only option
  • Digital platforms can circumvent many of the challenges that getting a wet signature can present
  • Regulations in your specific locale may vary, so be vigilant on new rules and changing laws before choosing an option.

If you're a small business owner, then you are probably used to doing a lot of paperwork. There is always a new batch of documents to be signed and wet signatures to be placed on them. But have you ever wondered what those signatures represent or what your options are?

If so, then this article is for you. We'll delve deep into wet signatures (ink signatures) and explore their nuances. Furthermore, we'll discuss their legality and components and pinpoint their history. We'll also discuss their validity, advantages and limitations, and how you can best use them. Finally, we'll explore some alternatives and current trends. So, let's start.

Wet signatures are used all over the world in commercial settings, legal settings, and formal settings. They are more complex than you might initially expect, so let's define them more clearly.

What is a wet signature?

A wet signature can be defined as a physical signature signed using ink on paper. Since the ink is predominantly used, the signatures are called "wet." This type of signature has been used across the centuries to signify someone's approval.

Recently, the shift towards more digital alternatives has changed the way signatures are carried out. Electronic signatures are becoming more common, and cryptographic techniques are used to ensure security.

Importance and relevance of wet signatures

As stated, wet signatures have had to adapt to the digital age. Electronic signatures have gained mass acceptance and are recognized legally in many countries. As such, they act just like wet signatures regarding their validity. However, the importance of wet signatures in the digital age can be seen from the following perspectives.

  1. Legal recognition: While legally valid, electronic signatures are still not fully accepted in all matters. Certain legal documents may require wet signatures. Certain contracts, wills, or real estate contracts require wet signatures to be considered valid.
  2. Cultural practices: In many countries, wet signatures are common due to their cultural significance. People tend to sign their documents or work using ink because it gives them a cultural identity. For instance, art pieces still contain wet signatures to signify their creator.
  3. Authentication: While electronic signatures are quite secure in their own right, they have not fully replaced wet signatures. The physical nature of these signatures makes them difficult to replicate and copy. As such, they often carry greater weight than electronic ones.

The legality of wet signatures

Wet signatures have been an important part of legal matters for centuries. They are a traditional way of signing documents and showcasing approval. As such, their role in our society cannot be understated, despite the existence of alternatives. Let's explore further what wet signatures mean regarding their legal recognition.

Overview of legal recognition

If you plan to sign documents or draft contracts, then you need to understand the legal recognition of wet signatures. In many countries, especially the US and the UK, wet signatures are considered totally valid and legally binding.

However, in other countries, the validity of wet signatures varies. In France and Germany, for example, only certain documents require wet signatures. For the most part, electronic signatures are acceptable and legally binding.

Furthermore, many jurisdictions have special laws to regulate electronic signatures. The US ESIGN Act and the European eIDAS Regulations govern the legality of electronic signatures.

Comparison with electronic signatures

Since wet and electronic signatures are so intertwined, you might wonder how well they compare. Let's delve deeper into how they are similar and where they differ.

  1. Validity: Electronic signatures are considered valid for the most part, just like wet signatures. Most jurisdictions consider them legally binding, assuming that there is proper intent.
  2. Authentication: Wet signatures authenticate a person through their unique design and distinctive characteristics. On the other hand, electronic signatures use cryptographic techniques. This means they are often more secure than wet signatures.
  3. Efficiency: Electronic signatures are more efficient because they are quicker and more convenient. They can be signed remotely and instantly placed on multiple documents automatically. Wet signatures need to be placed manually, making them far less convenient.

Understanding the components of a wet signature

Before engaging in wet signatures, it is best to understand the various components involved. These components include the following.

Handwritten signatures

A handwritten signature is the fundamental part of wet signatures. They are physical signage on documents and are done using one's hand. The person themselves must make the signature, so they need to have a certain distinctive design.

Supporting elements

You might also need other information to seal the deal besides the pen and ink. This might include your printed name, date, designation, and witnesses. You might also be required to use a seal or a stamp to validate the document further. The details vary from situation to situation.

The evolution of wet signatures

Wet signatures have come a long way from their origins. If you were curious how they came to be, then let's discuss their history below.

Historical origins and significance

Wet signatures can be dated back centuries to ancient civilizations. Sumerian clay tablets sometimes contain the signatures of people. They were used to symbolize consent or approval and authenticate the relevant people.

A sign meant that the document was approved. Since the sign couldn't be replicated, documents were difficult to alter. As such, the concept of wet signatures spread worldwide and began to be used more thoroughly.

The transition from traditional to digital processes

As technology advanced, electronic signatures became more prominent. These use special cryptographic techniques to ensure security and authenticity. These were safer than traditional wet signatures. Furthermore, they were much more convenient to use as well.

Because of the benefits of wet signatures, they began to be incorporated and regulated by governments. Authorities began to provide frameworks that give legal validity to electronic signatures and facilitate digital transactions.

Current trends and advancements

These days, the relevance of signatures is ever-changing. The adoption of electronic signatures has increased rapidly across various industries. Other new developments, such as blockchain technology, have also affected how people sign their documents. This is because it can create transparent and tamper-proof solutions.

Furthermore, mobile and cloud-based platforms have made signing documents remotely and electronically easier. This is due to biometric verification technologies such as fingerprint and facial scanners. They are integrated into applications and enhance the level of security offered to the user.

Today, special software and digital tools allow users to electronically sign their documents with appropriate safety. Bonsai, for instance is one such software. It allows businesses and entrepreneurs to effectively make deals and upscale their brands. The streamlined capabilities offer a huge advantage to newcomers as well as seasoned entrepreneurs.

The validity of wet signatures

The question of validity regarding wet signatures is a constant source of confusion for many business owners. Here is what you need to know.

Factors affecting validity

There are many factors affecting the validity of wet signatures on your contracts. Here is what you need to consider.

  1. Legal requirements: How and when wet signatures are valid depends on the jurisdiction's legal requirements. The type of document involved dictates if wet signatures are valid or not.
  2. Intent: Intent is a factor that should be present behind all signatures. A signature can only be considered valid only if it is accompanied by intent.
  3. Legal capacity: Signatures are only considered valid if a person with legal capacity signs them. This means that the person signing must be of legal age, be mentally competent, and should have the authority to sign the documents.

Court cases and legal precedents

In court cases and legal proceedings, wet signatures play a major role. Courts recognize wet signatures as permissible means of approval and consider them legally binding. However, specific rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

By and large, if you manage to demonstrate intent, consent, and comply with the legal requirements set by the jurisdiction, then your wet signatures would most likely be considered valid.

Notary public and witnessing requirements

A notary public is an official who is mandated to verify signatures and certify documents. Their involvement adds a layer of authenticity and security to documents. When concerning such individuals, you may need to prove the authenticity of your signatures.

The same case may be applied to witnesses since they may be required to attest to the signing process and provide additional evidence. Witness requirements can differ based on the nature of the document and the type of engagement.

Advantages of wet signatures

Wet signatures have a lot of advantages that may surprise you. Here are some advantages you might not be aware of.

Personal touch and authenticity

Wet signatures can allow you to add a personal touch to your documents. They can be a tangible little detail that signifies your specific approval. When using your hand to sign a document, you add a unique element that cannot easily be replicated.

This can add a layer of authenticity and credibility to your documents. This is why wet signatures have had a mainstay in legal and commercial dealings for centuries. They act as a direct representation of your identity and consent.

Psychological impact on trust and confidence

Wet signatures inspire confidence and have a psychological impact on your partners. Their presence fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability. When manually signing your documents, you'll find that your partners feel more assured and satisfied.

This is also why many legal proceedings don't consider electronic signatures to be on par with wet signatures. The physical presence of commitment can be quite overpowering in fostering confidence.

Enhanced security against fraud and tampering

Wet signatures add a layer of protection against fraud and tampering. Since wet signatures have a unique touch and individual elements, they are hard to replicate. As such, there is greater security to be enjoyed when manually signing documents.

While forgery is a crime, the difficulty of manipulation makes it less likely. The complexity of wet signatures can also deter any fraud and illegal activities.

Cons, limitations and challenges of a wet signature

We already discussed the potential advantages you could enjoy, but wet signatures also have limitations. Let's explore these below.

Physical presence and geographical constraints

Wet signatures require the signee to be physically present to sign documents. This is a major drawback as it can be a huge obstacle to international deals. If the parties are located in different geographical locations, getting them under a single roof can be difficult.

While possible, ensuring that the parties are in a single place can lead to delays and logistical issues. These increase costs and further make wet signatures more inconvenient.

Delays in document processing and storage

Wet signatures can cause delays since they're usually processed manually rather than through machines. The documents need to be physically transported and stored, and this can cause delays.

Furthermore, the entire process is quite time-consuming and resource-intensive. Retrieving the documents after signing them can also be cumbersome. As such, quick access is often not possible when it comes to wet signatures.

Environmental concerns and paper wastage

Wet signatures are signed on paper, and this has led to concerns regarding sustainability. Paper production consumes natural resources, energy, and water and contributes to deforestation. Furthermore, since it is an industrial practice, it leads to vast greenhouse gas emissions.

Delays in project kickoff

If there are many rounds of legal review for a particular project, you may miss deadlines because you were waiting for a prospective client to sign a contract in ink and send back to you. Platforms like Bonsai can help with contract e-signing solutions that allow you to select your own personal signature to include in all agreements hassle free.

As such, there are huge environmental drawbacks regarding paper and wet signatures. The disposal of these documents is also a huge concern.

Use cases for wet signatures

You might be wondering when and how you will need to use wet signatures. Let's explore some common situations where wet signatures may be required.

Legal contracts and agreements

Wet signatures are widely used to seal legal contracts and agreements. This is because parties generally want to ensure authenticity and foster trust. As such, agreements such as employment contracts, partnerships, NDAs, and vendor contracts require that a wet signature be placed on them to seal the deal.

Real estate transactions

Real estate is a lucrative industry. As such, such transactions often involve wet signatures. These agreements are relatively complex, and their high-value nature requires that there be a decent level of trust between the parties. Purchase agreements, leases, mortgages, and property deeds are all sealed using wet signatures.

Government and administrative processes

Many government and administrative processes still rely on wet signatures to be considered valid. This includes passport applications, driver's licenses, permits, and other official documents.

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Exploring alternatives: Electronic signatures

While wet signatures are still prevalent worldwide, electronic signatures are slowly becoming more popular as time progresses and technology progresses.

Definition and types of electronic signatures

Electronic signatures refer to signatures created and executed electronically without needing to put ink on paper physically. They are used as alternatives to wet signatures and allow documents to be signed digitally. You should be aware of a few different types of electronic signatures.

  1. Simple electronic signatures: These signatures include forms that can be signed by simply clicking "I agree" on a website. These are typically employed in low-risk transactions and have limited legal enforceability.
  2. Digital signatures: Digital signatures use cryptography to secure and verify the individual. As such, they cannot easily be replicated and protect against any tampering. They use digital certificates and encryption algorithms to secure a user's identity and are quite useful at that.
  3. Biometric signatures: Biometric signatures use a person's physical characteristics to identify and authenticate them. Biometric signatures use fingerprints, physical recognition, and voice patterns to authenticate users and establish their identity.

Benefits and drawbacks compared to wet signatures

There are significant advantages of using electronic signatures over wet signatures. However, with each advantage, there are some drawbacks too. Let's explore them in further detail.

Benefits of electronic signatures

  1. Electronic signatures allow for remote and instant signing of documents. This eliminates the need for physical presence.
  2. Electronic signatures allow you to save up on printing, transporting, and storage costs, making them cheaper.
  3. Electronic signatures are often more secure regarding safety, employing robust encryption and verification techniques.
  4. Electronic signatures have an audit trail that can record the signing process, date, and actions taken. This makes them easier to track.

Drawbacks of electronic signatures

  1. In most jurisdictions, electronic signatures are not fully recognized for all types of documents.
  2. Electronic signatures require that the individual have access to technology infrastructure such as internet connectivity and digital platforms.
  3. Some individuals may hesitate to adopt these signatures due to unfamiliarity, fear, and security concerns.

When to consider electronic signatures over wet signatures

Despite these drawbacks, there are situations where opting for electronic signatures can be the best way forward. Software and programs like Bonsai allow for seamless signature opportunities so business can close deals with ease. Let's explore these situations below.

  1. Time-sensitive deals: When time is of the essence, electronic signatures can streamline the process and make it easier to complete transactions.
  2. Remote transactions: When the parties are located in separate geographical locations, electronic signatures can allow for seamless deals without any physical interactions.
  3. Security concerns: When there are significant security concerns regarding a transaction, electronic signatures can often help secure both parties.
  4. Cost and efficiency: Electronic signatures often provide cost-saving methods and reduce paperwork by a huge margin.

Combining wet and electronic signatures

Wet signatures can be used alongside electronic signatures. Here is how to combine both in order to get the best of both.

Hybrid approaches and best practices

You need to determine which cases require what signature type. Consider the legal requirements, security, convenience, and presence of parties. You also need to clearly define procedures for when to use wet or electronic signatures.

Furthermore, ensure compliance with the laws and regulations in place. You need to implement robust authentication and security measures for your signatures.

Ensuring legal compliance and security

You need to maintain a comprehensive audit trail of the document workflow and include both wet and electronic signatures. Be sure to track the entire signing process.

You also need to understand the legal framework and requirements for both wet and electronic signatures. Ensure that your approach meets all the legal standards and data privacy regulations.

Industry-specific examples

A combination of wet and electronic signatures is employed in the healthcare industry, law firms, financial institutions, and even government agencies.

This is because combining both allows for efficient processes, additional assurance, and streamlined administrative processes. With tools such as Bonsai, businesses and entrepreneurs can customize their signature preferences according to their vision. As such, Bonsai allows flexibility with tailor-made signatures.

Implementing wet signatures in a digital workflow

Implementing wet signatures in a digital workflow involves using appropriate tools and steps. Here is how you can ensure the best performance.

Tools and technologies for digital wet signatures

You need to choose the tools and technologies to support wet signatures in your documents. You can use scanners to scan your physical signatures and use them as digital signatures.

Furthermore, other tools, such as digital ink and signature pads, can perform the same function. Likewise, you can use stylus devices to allow wet signatures to be placed digitally directly.

Steps to create and capture wet signatures digitally

To capture your wet signatures digitally, follow these steps.

  1. Prepare the documents: You need to first convert the document to a digital format, such as PDF. This conversion allows for easy integration with wet signatures. Ensure that the document is properly formatted and includes all the appropriate fields.
  2. Capture your wet signatures digitally: You can use the tools we discussed earlier to capture your wet signatures. You can use signature pads, touchscreen devices, digital pens, or stylus devices.
  3. Ensure authenticity and security: Implement effective security measures to ensure the authenticity of your wet signatures. You can use encryption techniques, digital certifications, and other tools to protect your identity.
  4. Legal compliance: You need to ensure that your signatures and their implementation comply with the legal and regulatory requirements. Observe the laws and governing regulations that are present. You can also consult a legal professional to help you out.

Integration with document management systems

You can integrate your digitally captured wet signatures with document management systems. This will make it easy to store, retrieve and manage your documents seamlessly.

Wet signatures in the COVID-19 era

In the COVID-era, wet signatures faced many challenges. Due to remote work and social distancing gaining steam, wet signatures had to adapt. Here's what you need to know.

Impact of remote work and social distancing

With the shift towards remote working, traditional processes had to take a backseat. Obtaining wet signatures became more challenging as people had to adhere to strict social distancing regulations.

Companies, government agencies, and other institutions had to use new technological solutions. These include electronic signatures, document collaboration, and sharing tools. These allowed signatures to be placed without the need for any physical interaction.

Adoption of digital transformation strategies

COVID-19 pushed companies to implement new technologies to accommodate signatures better. Digital signatures began to be more adopted, and this made remote signing and document exchange possible.

Firms began to experiment with platforms that facilitate secure and efficient systems of agreement. Implementing biometrics, for instance, went into full swing at various workplaces and government agencies. Furthermore, with the advent of electronic signature tools such as Bonsai, many businesses began to approach peak efficiency.

Balancing security and convenience

However, due to this change, it became more and more crucial to balance security and convenience. While these new digital tools offered more convenience, their experimental nature of them made it difficult to maintain security properly.

As such, authentication methods such as encryption techniques and legal compliance were established. This helped to develop the technology further and make it safer for all who would use it.

The future of wet signatures

Wet signatures are undergoing a transformation as technology continues to evolve. There have been new innovations that are set to change the way we perform our tasks and authenticate our identity.

Potential advancements and innovations

There are four main potential advancements that are expected to be the most potent.

  1. Hybrid approaches: A combination of wet and electronic signatures has become more prevalent. They allow for the integration of traditional and digital processes. They combine the best of both while balancing security and convenience.
  2. Digital ink: Digital ink allows for more accurate and authentic representations of wet signatures. These are capable of capturing the physical characteristics of wet signatures while allowing for a more seamless experience.
  3. Blockchain: Blockchain technology offers more security and tracking potential. It involves a tamper-proof record of wet signatures and their transactions. As such, they cannot be manipulated and are encrypted.
  4. Remote notarization: Notaries verify signatures as their job. However, with remote technologies, this can be accomplished through technology. This makes authentication easier and seamless.

Industry and regulatory perspectives

As technology advances, regulatory agencies need to enhance their skills and specialties as well. This includes proper accommodation for electronic signatures while preserving the validity of wet signatures.

Likewise, the industries, such as real estate, are also impacted. With advanced technology, new avenues are opened that can facilitate transactions through electronic signatures.

Anticipated challenges and opportunities

There are indeed significant challenges ahead. Here are just a few obstacles that digital signature processes may need to overcome to become mainstream.

  1. Widespread adoption: Digital processes must overcome the resistance to change to be accepted on a wider scale. Cultural and legal obstacles exist, which keep them from being more common.
  2. Security and authentication: Digital processes need to have adequate security to protect them from hackers and attackers. They need to have reliable authentication methods to maintain trust and prevent any instances of fraud.

Conclusion

Overall, we discussed what wet signatures are and how they can be used. They have been used across the centuries as a means to convey approval and seal transactions. However, with the advent of digital technologies, alternatives are now entering the market.

Digital processes and electronic signatures are slowly taking over. They provide a lot of benefits over traditional methods but are still not widely used. This is often due to legal and cultural barriers. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, these barriers are slowly being eroded.

New technology and software such as Bonsai have allowed businesses and entrepreneurs to close deals seamlessly with electronic signatures. These combine the safety and security of cryptography, while allowing for full customizability. These are slowly becoming more common in various industries.

The signature landscape is in a state of flux, and new technologies such as blockchain are expected to shake things up once more. However, the importance of versatility cannot be understated during these times. As such, hybrid approaches are often the best way forward for companies, agencies, and institutions.

FAQs

If you still have questions about wet signatures, these FAQs may ease your mind.

Are wet signatures legally binding?

Yes, wet signatures are legally binding in most jurisdictions. The particular legal recognition, however, may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As such, it is important to consult with local legal professionals.

Can a wet signature be scanned and used digitally?

Yes, a wet signature can be scanned using a scanning device or digital pens. These can then be used to sign documents digitally. Their legality and acceptance vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

How do wet signatures compare to digital signatures?

Both of these serve the same function of indicating approval. Wet signatures involve physically signing a document, while electronic signatures use cryptography to obtain consent and approval.

Do all countries recognize wet signatures?

Almost all countries recognize wet signatures. The particular laws in each jurisdiction, however, tend to vary.

Are wet signatures more secure than electronic signatures?

Wet signatures have unique characteristics that make them secure. However, electronic signatures have their own security features, such as encryption, digital certificates, and audit trails, that make them secure and compliant with local laws.

What are the environmental implications of wet signatures?

Wet signatures employ the use of paper. As such, they contribute to deforestation, carbon emissions, and wastage.

Can wet signatures be used in remote work scenarios?

Remote notarization and other methods exist to incorporate wet signatures in remote work. However, there are many hurdles that are slowly being eroded.

How do wet signatures affect document retention and storage?

Wet signatures require physical documents. As such, there is a need for dedicated storage spaces and proper organization. Electronic signatures, on the other hand, do not have the same requirements.

Are there any industry-specific regulations for wet signatures?

Some industries, such as healthcare, finance, and public service, may have specific regulations regarding wet signatures. It is important to consult legal professionals before committing to any signatures.

What are the best practices for ensuring the validity of wet signatures?

  1. Approach with a clear intent
  2. Sign with a reliable instrument
  3. Include additional information, such as dates if required
  4. Adhere to legal and regulatory requirements

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