The death of “Wet-Ink” signatures in a post-pandemic world

With so many office workers across the world now working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the process of obtaining original signatures has posed plenty of challenges. Tasks which are typically formalized with “wet-ink” in person have entered the strange world of online service in an attempt to respect social distancing requirements.

Many state governments have issued temporary regulations or executive orders permitting wills and powers of attorney to be witnessed virtually. eNotarization services have taken off, with the process for notarizing oaths, affidavits, statutory declarations and other documents using technologies like web conferencing instead of meeting with a notary in person.

The landscape of electronic signature services in particular has shifted in light of the pandemic. What does that mean for your business? And what will it mean for signature requirements in a post-COVID 19 business world?

The main guiding principles of the laws governing electronic signatures in Canada and the United States are that when parties to a contract have agreed to use an electronic signature, that signature may not be denied legal effect solely because it is in electronic form. In other words, as long as both parties agree to use eSignatures in the first place, they are just as legally binding as a signature in ink.

In most cases, the consent between parties to use eSignatures doesn’t even need to be expressly provisioned. Implied consent comes into play when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the consent is genuine and is relevant to the information or document. For example — if an agreement is entered between two parties via email or some other online intermedium, it’s safe to assume that both parties are implying that they consent to the use of electronic signatures to execute their documents.

Electronic signatures are defined by the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.” That means anything from typing your name in an email or sending a physically signed document via fax to using an eSignatures service can fall under the same category.

While there are exceptions, many legal documents have been being signed via eSignature since long before the pandemic. While the business world is fairly conditioned to believe in the symbolic weight of pen on paper, a wet-ink signature is, in fact, fairly weak evidence of an agreement. Signatures are fairly easily forged, and their shape and weight doesn’t change from a trivial agreement to an important one.

While the notarization process helps offset some of the weaknesses of ink signatures, electronic signatures have proven to be much more secure. It’s true that COVID-19 has accelerated the use of eSignatures, but they were already rapidly gaining popularity for their ease of use and security. The practice will continue to grow in popularity even as offices reopen their doors and people begin to meet in person once again. While the pandemic may not spell out the end of “Wet Ink” signatures entirely, we will definitely see a continued emphasis put on the safer e-alternative.