Certified Mail Requirements

By Chris Blank

In order to be assured that a package or letter has been properly delivered and to have proof of delivery, the post office has made certified mail service available. The service is available with or without a return receipt. It is also possible to specify restricted delivery to a particular person. However, there are a number of restrictions involved with the types of mail that are eligible for certified mail, and the proper procedures should be followed in order to have the service work the way it's intended.

Uses for Certified Mail

Certified mail is primarily used to provide proof or evidence that a piece of mail was sent out and/or received on a certain date. Proof of deliveryis provided by an optional return receipt that is attached to the mail piece. The return receipt is signed by the recipient along with the certified mail notice and the return receipt is forwarded to the sender by regular mail.

Paper tax returns sent near or on the deadline date of April 15 are often sent by certified mail, either with or without a return receipt. Certified mail receipts are accepted as legal evidence for sending or the receipt of a particular piece of mail on a particular date. As a result, many legal notices, including service of process, are also posted through the use of certified mail. For these mail pieces, return receipts are almost always included.

Certified Mail vs. Priority Mail

First-class letters and parcels may be sent using certified mail. Priority Mail, which is two-day expedited delivery for eligible parcels and packages, is also eligible for certified mail services. as well as Priority Mail parcels and packages. Priority Mail can also be sent with delivery confirmation service, which is similar to certified mail. The difference is that with certified mail, the signature of the recipient or authorized agent or household member is required for final delivery of certified mail, but not for delivery confirmation service.

Signature confirmation is also available with Priority Mail. Signature confirmation is similar to certified mail in that the signature of the recipient is required for final delivery. With signature confirmation, instead of a return receipt, the sender may request to have a copy of the recipient's signature forwarded by fax or regular mail as proof of delivery to a particular recipient. Certified mail can be sent with restricted delivery, which ensures that only a particular person is allowed to accept a mail piece. This service is not available with signature confirmation

Certified Mail vs. Registered Mail

Registered mail differs from certified mail in that registered mail travels under tight security at every stage of delivery. Registered mail is also insured for up to $25,000 against damage, theft or loss. Highly valuable items and documents are often mailed using registered mail. Certified mail provides no insurance or guarantees for anything other than the date of mailing and delivery.

Certified Mail vs. Insured Mail

Insured mail is guaranteed against loss or theft for the value of the contents of a mailed piece. Insured mail is not eligible for certified mail delivery. However, insured mail can be sent with delivery confirmation or signature confirmation. It can also be sent with restricted delivery, to ensure that the mail piece is delivered to a particular person, like certified mail.

Certified Mail vs. Certificate of Mailing

A certificate of mailing is a receipt issued by the post office which states that a piece of mail was posted on a certain date. The receipt lists the mailing address for the piece of mail. However, unlike with certified mail, no confirmation of delivery is available with a certificate of mailing. It is also not possible to trace a piece of mail with a certificate of mailing.

Procedures

Certified mail is designated by a receipt that is attached to the mail piece. It is available at the post office or online through the Click2Mail service. It is self-explanatory and includes checkboxes and fill-in forms for all available services. At the post office, the postal clerk date-stamps the portion of the receipt that remains attached to the package as well as the portion of the receipt that is returned to the customer. With Click2Mail, the procedure can be completed via the sender's home or work computer with Internet access.

First class mail, including small packages, is limited to 13 ounces or less. Priority Mail parcels may be up to 70 pounds in weight and no more than 108 inches in combined length and width. The certified mail receipt should indicate whether the mail piece is being sent by first class mail or by Priority Mail.

Extra Services

For parcels, which are not eligible for certified mail, a return receipt for merchandise performs a similar function to the return receipt for certified mail. The receipt is signed by the recipient and returned to the sender by regular mail. Express mail also provides proof of delivery; however, its main emphasis is on guaranteed delivery within a specified period of time, usually one day. Certified mail does not provide a guaranteed delivery date.

About the Author

Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.