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"X" as a Signature

"X" as a signature refers to a cross that is printed in lieu of an individual's signature. A signature is required to authenticate wills, deeds, and certain commercial instruments. Typically, individuals sign their full names when executing legal documents. Sometimes, however, individuals use only their initials or other identifying mark. For illiterate, incompetent, or disabled people, this mark is often the letter X. Documents signed with an X sometimes raise questions as to their validity and enforceability.

For example, wills must be signed by the testator in order to be valid and enforceable. A testator's signature may take the form of his full name, nickname, initials, or other identifying mark, including a thumbprint or blood splotch. In many jurisdictions testators may authenticate their last will and testament with the letter X. Before an X may be treated as a binding signature during a proceeding to contest a will, courts commonly require the testimony of two people who witnessed the signature. The witnesses may also be questioned by the court to determine if the testator declared her intention of completing the will by signing it in this fashion. In other states the law requires courts to invalidate wills that are signed with an X unless the testator was physically or mentally incapable of signing her full name. Similar rules are applied by courts when evaluating the enforceability of real estate deeds that are signed with an X.

Signatures also form the legal basis of negotiable instruments. Section 3-401(2) of the UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE (UCC) provides that "[n]o person is liable on an instrument unless his signature appears thereon." The UCC defines the term signature as any name, TRADE NAME, assumed name, word, or other identifying mark used in lieu of a signature (§ 3-401(2)). The term signed is defined by the UCC as any symbol executed or adopted by a party with the "present intention of authenticating a writing" (§ 1-201(39)). Thus, commercial instruments, such as checks and promissory notes, may be signed by affixing any symbol that an individual intends to represent his signature. Consequently, courts will enforce commercial contracts signed with an X without regard to an individual's mental or physical ability to sign her full name, though mental or physical incapacity may be relevant if a particular contract is alleged to be the product of overreaching, UNDUE INFLUENCE, or coercion.


McGovern, William M., and Sheldon F. Kurtz. 2001. Wills, Trusts, and Estates. 2d ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.

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