We have been taught by our parents and school teachers not to be obstreperous. So if you have to fill in forms and the official says “sign here” and “sign over there”, you compliantly and dutifully do so where indicated.

What is often overlooked, is that the form may constitute a legally binding contract. There is nothing in law that says you must sign. If someone forces you, and it can be proven afterwards, the contract is unenforceable. Should you sign, without reading, you commit yourself to what you have signed for, subject to consumer and labour legislation that in some cases will offer protection.

There is also nothing in law that says you may not delete some wording and add some of your own, with your initials adjacent thereto. In some cases, like property sales, the other party must initial as well, but in general you are likely to get away with it. So if in the admission form at the hospital, where you are concerned about charges that may not be covered by your medical aid, there is nothing prohibiting you from inserting words to the effect that all charges to be incurred that may not be covered by your medical aid must first be consented to by you in writing. The official at the hospital may protest or may even block your admission! That will have its own ramifications and space does not allow me to elaborate on that scenario!

Remember that before you sign, you may ask for clarification of anything in the document that is not clear. The Consumer Protection Act requires that any document that is intended to be a contract must be in plain language.

The important thing is, don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by just signing because you are asked or told to do so. If there is a lot of fine print and pages to read, you may ask that copy of the document first be made available to you and you be given a chance to study it at your own convenience. Remember that form that bears your signature, and which turned out to be a binding contract, may haunt you in the future.