If signing legal documents is a regular part of your job, you might need a witness present to verify your signature for some of these papers. Legal documents are ensured to be enforceable and valid. 

A witness is presented to ensure that the agreement is signed by the correct party to mitigate the risk of fraud. Of course, you may not need a witness when signing all your documentation. Still, the following are some of the documents that require witnesses:

  • General Purpose Contracts
  • Deeds
  • Agreements
  • Guarantees
  • Mortgages
  • Transferring power of attorney
  • Other financial documentation and Affidavits

Certain requirements need to be fulfilled for a person to qualify as a witness. A witness must:

  • Be over the age of 18
  • Be able to identify the person
  • Not be under the influence of any drugs
  • Be of sound mind and demonstrate a stable mental capacity
  • Not be a part of the document or have a financial interest in the agreement
  • Not be a beneficiary to the document, such as a family member witnessing a last will and testament

This article will discuss witness signatures, the legality behind them, the difference between a notary and witness signatures, and whether your business should opt for it. Let’s explore:

  1. What is a witness signature
  2. Credible identifying witness
  3. Subscribing witness
  4. Signature witnessing
  5. Witness signature vs. notary
  6. Electronic signature witness statement
  7. Benefits of using electronic witness signature
  8. Background legislation
  9. How to witness an electronic signature?
  10. Future of eWitness signing

1. What is a witness signature

A witness signature is a type of notarial act permitted in numerous states. The signer must personally come before the notary to witness their signature, and they must present an adequate ID. The document must then be signed by the signer in the presence of the notary, who subsequently adds the necessary notarial text.

A witness signature verifies the authenticity of a document and fulfills legal requirements. These are widely used in financial institutions and play an essential part in completing any contractual binding. This act ensures that the party going into the contract or agreement is authentic and identified by the witness.

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There are several types of witness signatures. All play a part in the legality of the document. Some of these types are not permitted by law in certain states.

2. Credible identifying witness

This is the most common type of witness that you can see in most instances. A credible identifying witness acts like a guarantor to verify the identity of the person involved in the contract or agreement. So, essentially, their job is to guard the document against duress or forgery of any kind.

And in case there is ever a dispute over the document, the witness may be called upon to provide unbiased evidence about the signing and the circumstances in which it happened.

3. Subscribing witness

A subscribing witness is an individual that is present when the signature takes place. This person is asked to appear in front of the notary, replacing the principal signer — in case the principal signer cannot personally appear for the signing. This is allowed in only a few states.

4. Signature witnessing

Signature witnessing is defined under an official notarial act but is not legally applicable in all states. Signature witnessing happens when the witness is presented in front of the notary and the principal signer to identify the individual and sign the document in the notary’s presence.

In this day and age, people are slowly moving away from physically being present and prefer eSigning. This allows documents to be signed by principal signers and witnesses from the comfort of their home or office. As a result, more people are accepting eSigning as the best way to get documents signed. However, there is a difference between witness signing and notary signing.

5. Witness signature vs. notary

Most people are unaware of the differences between a notary and a witness signature. Although they both perform the same function, there is a difference in their legal standing.

The difference between notary services and witness signing is the liability on the signer. A notary is solely liable to themselves as they are representing as a single individual. This means that the notary will be held accountable to pay the repercussions in case of forgery or error. Consequently, in the case of witness signature, they perform an act on behalf of an institution. Therefore, they are covered through insurance if the authentication is invalid and leads to forgery or errors.

Let’s take the example of financial institutions. They only give signature guarantees for business and financial documents like trading assets and securities such as bonds and stocks.

On the other hand, notaries serve as state officials and witnesses for different types of legal documentation. In addition, notaries are required to be commissioned by the state. Finally, they have to go through the certification process to be legally allowed to work in a specific state.

Certain documents and contracts need notarization, but notaries can also serve as witnesses if a notary is not required. Again, this is beneficial for all parties in the signing process.

All in all, the difference between notary and witness signing boils down to the difference in liability. Also, a notary can double as a witness. Still, a witness cannot notarize a document due to the legal requirements of becoming a notary.

6. Electronic signature witness statement

We are in a world where convenience is important to us. From online shopping to food delivery and everything in between, people do not like making the trip. Similarly, when we talk about witnesses, more often than not, they would prefer to sign a witness statement at their convenience. Electronic signatures on witness statements are a reality, but only a few solicitors are using electronic signatures.

Electronic signatures are widely used for more menial tasks, such as getting insurance for your car or applying for a new credit/debit card. These are cases where you are the sole signer of the document — they do not identify an individual as a witness. The legal standing of electronic signatures is strong and can even be used for legal documents such as Fee agreements. The problem arises when it goes into the hands of a solicitor.

Court documents require the solicitor to take signatures in “wet ink.” It is not illegal to obtain a signature through electronic means, but solicitors fear the chance of re-submissions due to the lack of “wet ink” signatures. It might take some time for solicitors to fully accept the effectiveness of electronic signatures and use them widely in court documents.

7. Benefits of using electronic witness signature

As we discussed earlier, an electronic witness signature or eWitness can help all parties enjoy several benefits. Let’s discuss each benefit and how both parties can fulfill legal requirements with ease.

  • Flexibility

One of the most apparent benefits is flexibility. People have a busy lifestyle, and it can become troublesome to get hold of all the parties on a single day. Manual signing can mean that people will have to go out of their way to make time in their schedule to appear for the signing. The trouble arises for time-sensitive documents that need to be processed as soon as possible. eSigning eliminates this inconvenience, and the sender, signer, and witness can sign the simple contract from the comfort of their own office or home.

  • Automated

Picture a courtroom with files on top of files. The employee in the courtroom will have to sift through the mountain of paperwork to get a specific task done. Electronic witness sign allows parties to digitize this process and eliminate the need for physical documentation. In addition, automation can speed up contract creation and processing. The first step towards this is eWitness signing.

  • Reduced risk

When we talk about court signing, there is always a risk of forgery. This forgery can sometimes come from the witness side as well. A person can mask their identity, and this can lead to further legal complications. With eSigning, most software has safeguards in place that require the witness to verify their identity before they can be given a digital certificate. eSigning also offers the functionality of two-factor authentication by sending an OTP to the witness and signer before signing the document. This minimizes the risk of forgery in the case of both parties and protects the sender. 

  • Capture evidence

Digitizing the process of witness signing can come with several tracking capabilities that can serve as evidence. For example, electronically signing a legal document can help the court track down the signer’s IP and the timestamp when the signature was sent. This can serve as concrete evidence in the case of a legal dispute that may arise.

  • Cost and time efficiency

One of the most tedious aspects of manual witness signing is the cost and time to complete the process. It can take a lot of time to coordinate all parties and call them in simultaneously for the signing process. This pushes the processing time, and completing the documents can take forever.

Secondly, paperwork can be costly. The sender has to bear the costs of paperwork, traveling expenses, and other expenses such as potential damage to the documents. This may not seem like a lot for one document. Still, for legal cases that can be in the hundreds every day, this number slowly starts accumulating and making a considerable impact.

ESigning allows senders to digitize this process, simplifying it and eliminating certain costs.

8. Background legislation

The big question is, do eWitness and eSigning hold legal standing? A law was put into effect in 2019 that concluded that deeds could be witnessed and signed by electronic means. This law recognized the importance of the digital era and gave legal standing to the electronic signature platform. The Law Commission believes that anytime there is a legal requirement for a signing to be witnessed, the witness must observe the signing in person.

  In addition, the law holds the sender accountable for ensuring that all the signing parties are co-located.

9. How to witness an electronic signature?

Witnessing a document through electronic means can be quick and straightforward. Following are the steps taken to witness an electronic document:

  • The sender creates a document that needs to be witnessed and sends it to the witness.
  • The witness receives the document along with a message from the sender if included.
  • Most witness documents require identification, in which case the witness needs to undergo two-factor authentication to access the file.
  • The witness accesses the files and inputs their details.
  • Once the documents are signed, it is sent back to the sender.
  • The witness may or may not be able to view the document after signing, depending on the permissions set by the sender.

10. Future of eWitness signing

Paperless witness signatures allow senders to save many costs associated with printing and storage. Furthermore, electronic witness signing means that the documentation is stored digitally and accessed according to the person’s access authorization. Finally, storing data online (given that the proper safeguards are in place, such as encryptions) can protect it from harm. Physical copies are prone to accidental damage. This is not the case with electronic documents that can be stored and backed up.

PandaDoc Notary allows document senders to simplify the process of electronic signing and eNotarization. eSigning and eNotarization are recognized under the law, and PandaDoc Notary is a reliable service if you have several court documents that need to be signed by witnesses and notarized

PandaDoc Notary enables thousands of senders to electronically sign and notarize documents from the comfort of their homes without the need to schedule visits and handle tedious paperwork.

PandaDoc Notary offers legal professionals an all-in-one platform to help them collect documents, get the electronic signature by the witness, and manage these notarized documents electronically. This can be an excellent option for court employees who require recurring signatures from witnesses and need to get it done swiftly to save processing time.

Wrapping up

Court documents require witnesses to affirm the signer’s identity and co-sign a document for it to be legally accepted. Getting the sender, signer, and witness all in one place for the signing process can be costly and time-consuming. This is why online witness signing has picked up. It gets the work done faster, is more cost-efficient, and offers effectiveness that others don’t.