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The term "acknowledgment of receipt" originated with the postal service. Various countries throughout the world have an equivalent terms, such as "advice of receipt" used in the United Kingdom, "avis de réception" used by the United Postal Union, and "ricevuta di ritorno" in Italy. The purpose of an acknowledgment of receipt is for the sender of an article of mail to be assured that the intended recipient actually received the letter or package. Although the term originated with the postal service, its use has spread to acknowledge the receipt of legal documents, informational handbooks, and a variety of other documents, the receipt of which must be recorded.
In most postal systems throughout the world, the sender of a letter or package has the option of sending the letter or package "return receipt requested." In the United States, a letter or package may be sent through the United States Postal Service (USPS) certified mail or registered mail. Both certified and registered mail provide the sender with an acknowledgment of receipt.
When a sender wishes to send a letter or package by certified or registered mail, he or she must first fill out the appropriate card at the post office. Within the United States, certified mail provides the sender with proof that the letter or package was mailed. Certified mail also provides acknowledgment of receipt if requested and an additional fee is paid at the time of mailing.
Registered mail is the most secure manner of sending a letter or package in the United States. A registered letter or package actually travels outside the regular flow of mail and a record of its passage is recorded at each stop, culminating with a standard acknowledgment of receipt when it arrives at its destination. Registered mail is automatically insured, while certified mail offers the option to purchase insurance. Both certified and registered mail require the recipient to sign for the letter or package with both a printed name and signature and to note the date and time of delivery.
Many institutions and businesses also use the concept of acknowledgment of receipt for a variety of reasons. Employers frequently provide employees with employment handbooks or benefit manuals and require the employees to sign a receipt acknowledging that they were provided. Many healthcare providers and lenders are also legally required to provide certain warnings and/or legal information to clients or patients and have adopted the procedure of requiring the client or patient to sign an acknowledgment of receipt.