What is a Countersignature?

Mary McMahon

A countersignature is a second signature added to a document that has already been signed. Countersignatures are used in situations where additional verification or endorsement is required or desired, as for example in cases where a document represents a major sale or large contract. The person who does the countersigning varies, depending on the situation, and is sometimes one of the people who initially signed the document. When a countersignature is required, there may be additional requirements, such as the need to have a witness when the document is signed.

Many formal documents call for countersignatures.
Many formal documents call for countersignatures.

In a classic example of a case where countersignatures are used, when people apply for insurance and a policy is generated, they sign the policy to accept it, and a representative of the insurance company countersigns to indicate that the contract for the policy is valid and has been approved by an agent. Double signatures can also be seen on paperwork for loans and other major transactions, acting as an assurance that a transaction was conducted in accordance with company policy.

Passport applications may require a countersignature.
Passport applications may require a countersignature.

Another situation where countersignatures are used is in applications for government identification and government benefits. Documents like driver's licenses and passports can be used as official identification, and governments want to be careful about issuing them, in order to make it harder to create false documents or to impersonate people. On an application for a document like a passport, for example, someone may need to present other forms of identification to an official, sign the document in the official's presence, and receive a countersignature from the official.

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Documents like cashier's checks can also involve a countersignature. In this case, when the person receives the document, it is signed by the recipient and the issuer. When the document is presented for payment, the person may be required to sign again in the presence of a witness. This is done to confirm the person's identity and ensure that the document didn't fall into the hands of an unauthorized party.

It is important to read documents requiring a countersignature carefully. If the document needs to be signed in front of witnesses, people should wait to sign it, as it may be invalid if they sign it on their own. If a countersignature from someone with specific qualifications like a doctor, lawyer, or notary is required, the document should be taken to someone for a countersignature and people should also ask to see proof that the person is qualified to practice. Professionals usually are registered with numbers, like a Bar Number for lawyers, and can provide proof of their registration upon request.

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