Contract Under Seal

Did you ever notice that many legal documents, such as contracts, trusts, powers of attorney, and Wills, have the word “SEAL” printed following the signature line. Some people assume that this means that a Notary Public must place a seal in that space, but that is not what that word means.

If a person signs a document, and the document has a signature line followed by the word “SEAL”, or something similar, under the law of most states the effect of that word “SEAL” is to impose a longer statute of limitations for the enforcement of that legal document.

For example, if one signs a contract in Maryland, and it is not signed under seal, the statute of limitations for the enforcement of such contract is three years, whereas the statute of limitations for a contract under seal in Maryland is 12 years. In other words, one would have 3 years within which to enforce a contract not signed under seal and 12 years to enforce a contract signed under seal.

In days of yore, to sign a contract under seal, one would first sign the document, then drop hot wax on the paper next to one’s signature and press his signet ring into the hot wax before it cooled. Or a corporate officer might apply the corporation’s seal stamp onto the document next to the signature of that corporate officer. In today’s world, the word SEAL printed on a document next to the signature line is the modern day equivalent the signet ring seal or the equivalent of affixing a corporate seal on a written instrument.

Not knowing the implications of the word SEAL next to the signature line of a legal document could have significant consequences for the person signing such document. William M. Gatesman stands ready to assist clients with all aspects of the legal documents that they sign, including advising them regarding the implications of the words in such document.