Must Contracts Be Signed or Initialed on Every Page?
Short answer? No.
You may have noticed that often some multi-page contracts contain a location on each page for all parties to initial. Often you will see these small signature lines in the lower right hand corner of each individual page of a contract. The practice is rarer these days, but for some reason remains common in the real estate industry.
Why the Need to Sign Every Page?
The hypothesis behind the requirement that every page be individually signed is the following: it prevents one of the parties from later inserting a false or modified page. So, the theory goes, it prevents fraud in the enforcement of contracts. This theory is strongly undercut by technology though. Contracts are no longer typed up by assistants–they are drafted with word processing software, and an original file can easily be maintained for decades. The common Acrobat document format can “lock” the text of a contract in a saved version. Not only that, email and fax transmissions of which the contract forms a part can further confirm the true text of a contract. All existing and transmitted versions of the contract would be admissible to authenticate the signed contract–not to mention the signed contract itself. Any person presenting an alternate version of a contract dissimilar to stored copies would face an insurmountable legal battle, and in the worst cases, would perjure themselves.
Another far weaker theory is that if a party initials every page he or she can’t claim, “I was not aware of that provision.” However, parties are bound to contracts regardless–lack of understanding or lack of diligence in reading the contract is not a legitimate defense in contract law.
In the Real World
The “every page” requirement is a hold out from a bygone era, before word processors, email, document management, and fax machines. There is no statute or law that demands that each page of a contract be initialed. Written contracts are binding if signed once by the parties to the contract–so don’t assume you wan wiggle out of a contract because you did not initial it on every page; the contract is binding if signed on the last page.
Lawyers are creatures of habit though, and older lawyers tend to include a place for initials on every page of a contract, and will likely continue. The practice is waning, although you may expect to see it on real estate contracts for decades to come.