Initialing each page of a legal document used to be a common practice that helped prove that no extra pages were added to a contract after it had been signed. But the digital era brought technological advancements that allowed both parties to keep identical, timestamped documents, like PDFs, and more robust (digital) paper trails which meant that initialing each page was no longer a necessity.
However, there are still some instances in which initials are useful and some documents and jurisdictions where they are required.
Find out when and how you should use initials in your legal document by reading through this post.
Related Document: Contract Amendment
Why Should I Initial My Contract?
Initialing a contract can help show that a change that was made after the document was signed and agreed to by all parties.
Making changes to a contract after it has been signed is relatively easy, which makes it hard to prove that an addition or deletion was made with each party’s consent. That’s where initials come in.
For example, say you wanted to sell your home and you created an Offer to Purchase Real Estate with an accepted purchase price of $350,000.00 and both you and the buyer signed the document. If you were to change the purchase price to $355,000.00 to cover an additional buyer expense (such as an upgrade to the property or a particular item), you could update your existing contract to include the new price and both initial the change in acknowledgment. That way, if the buyer were to dispute the purchase price down the road, you would be able to use the initialed contract as proof that they were aware of the change in price.
In general, it is an easy way to add a layer of security to a document or contract that needed a small change made to it.
Do I Need to Initial Each Page of My Legal Document?
Whether you need to initial your legal document or not depends on your jurisdiction and the document itself. It’s important to note that even if you initial each page of your document and it isn’t required, doing so won’t negatively affect your agreement. For instance, many real estate documents, like mortgages and offers, are initialed on each page even though it is not strictly necessary.
While initialing each page used to be a way to ensure that nothing was added to an agreement after it was signed, it was also a way to show that each page had been viewed and acknowledged by the parties signing it. However, remember that even if each page of a contract is not initialed, it does not take away from the validity of a signature on the signing page. In other words, even if you don’t initial one or more pages in your contract, but you put your signature on the signing page, you are still bound to all the responsibilities outlined in the entire document.
If you’re in the US, it’s likely you don’t need to initial each page of your contract, however, if you aren’t sure, check the requirements in your jurisdiction for the type of document you are signing.
When Should I Initial a Contract?
While you might not have to initial each page of a contract when you first create it, there may be instances where you need to initial one or more pages later on.
Often, initials are a way to acknowledge a small change in a contract after it has been signed to show that both parties agree to the amendment.
For example, if you create a Residential Lease Agreement with someone and the move-in date changes from September 1st to September 15th, you may want to just make the change to the contract in writing and initial it to show that you and the other party are both aware of and OK with the new date.
You may also want to sign your initials if you need to make a small change to an Offer to Purchase Real Estate, like a different deposit amount or method of payment.
If you need to make a change that involves more than just crossing out a word or two, it is recommended that you consider creating a Contract Amendment instead. For extensive alterations, you may even wish to start from scratch and create an entirely new contract.
How do I Initial a Legal Document?
If you need to initial a legal document, you may have questions about how to do it. Generally, you’ll want to follow the same guidelines you would with signing a legal contract. The initials should be in ink and written by your hand. They can be in either print or cursive but should be unique to you.
If adding your initials to a small change in a contract, be sure to add them in the margin next to the updated information. If you do initial a change in a contract, make sure that all copies of the contract are initialed and that all parties have an updated version.
Who Should Initial a Legal Document?
When acknowledging a written-in amendment to a document, all parties involved in the agreement should add their initials next to the change. This helps to show that everyone has been informed of the updated information and that they accept it.
Sign on the Dotted Line
While initials can be used to acknowledge changes or amendments, one of the most binding and important aspects of your document is the signature page. While initials may help to show that you agreed to a small change in a document, they aren’t necessarily what will hold you or the other party to the terms. Review your document carefully before adding your initials or signature to be sure that you fully understand and agree to the terms contained within it.