Certified Mail Regulations

By Kimberlee Leonard - Updated February 12, 2018
Man signing for a certified package

Certified mail is used with first-class or priority mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service. With certified mail, the sender requires a signature be obtained from the person receiving the letter or parcel. The signature can either be kept on record by the post office or can be returned to the sender. Certified mail is used to protect a sender by confirming the recipient received an item and on what date it arrived.

Signature Is Required

For delivery of certified mail in accordance with regulations, the mail delivery person must obtain the signature of the person who received it at the address of record. This may or may not be the person to whom the parcel is addressed. When an article goes by certified mail with no other designations, the only requirement is that the signature is obtained from anyone -- a secretary, spouse, friend -- at the location to which the parcel was sent.

Restricted Delivery

If a sender wants to be sure that the person for whom the parcel is intended, the addressee, receives the item, he should further request restricted delivery for the certified mail document. This will not guarantee delivery or timing of delivery but will restrict the signer of the Return Receipt to the person to whom the item is addressed. This is necessary in large offices where a mail room may receive items or in a situation in which the sender wants to make sure the item doesn't get into the wrong hands.

Failed Delivery

Those who deliver the mail are required to physically deliver the parcel to the specified address and obtain the required signature. If the addressee is no longer at the address, the item will be returned to the sender. If the intended recipient is not at the location at the time of delivery, the postman will leave an attempted delivery note with the next scheduled delivery time. If the mail delivery person is unable to deliver the parcel, the addressee will receive a note that the item will be available for pick up at the post office for a limited number of days before being returned to the sender.

Alternatives to Certified Mail

Certified mail is not guaranteed delivery nor does it automatically carry insurance. For a sender to be remunerated for items not delivered or returned, he must purchase insurance for the item. In these cases, certified mail may not be the best option for delivery and the sender may want to consider other options, such as registered mail, priority mail, special handling and shipping insurance. Ask the postal service to recommend the best form of delivery for your particular letter or parcel.

Legal Documentation

Certified mail designates that a parcel or letter was delivered to a particular person at a specified address on a noted date. It cannot certify what the contents of the letter or parcel are. Sending parcels containing legal documents or payments by certified mail cannot prove that they were actually delivered, only that a letter from the sender was signed for and received.

About the Author

Kimberlee Leonard has been helping businesses for more than 17 years with business planning, development and tax strategies. She lives in Hawaii with her son and dog.

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