Was it mailed?

Dear Straightdope Forum, If I put a letter in a US Postal Service mailbox is it considered to be legally mailed? I know that I mailed a letter with the proper postage but the recipient says they did’nt receive it. What does the law say? Thank you. :mad:

It is legally mailed if you did, in fact, mail it. All you have control over is putting it in the correct mailing outlet. However, this is what you call a “he says, she says” situation and it is almost impossible for you to prove that you actually put it in a mailbox or that the other person got it and used the envelope to do lines of cocaine and then threw it away by mistake. That is why they make certified mail (it is pretty cheap but a hassle). That gives you a document that shows that you did indeed mail it. The US Postal Service is responsible for the rest and all mailed items are presumed by default to have reached the intended recipient. Without the receipt however, it is just your word against the other person’s which doesn’t tend to go far.

Well, it’s a good question.

I do business(moderately) on Amazon. If I mail something at 5:00 p.m.(the last pickup time for mail in my area) on the 3rd day available, does it count as being mailed in time for the proper rules? The rules dictate mailing withing 3 business days.

Not to hijack, but a related question/comment.

My Mom always mails her tax returns registered mail and gets a “return receipt” a few days later. I ask her why and she says it so she can “prove” it was sent. I reply that the receipt just shows that an envelope was received at the IRS processing center and does nothing to prove that the envelope even had anything inside.

I’ve never received any registered or return receipt mail, but does the receipient actually get to inspect the envelope to determine what if anything it contains? I’d guess not, and that the receipt is just a “feel good” issue for the sender.

I am unaware of any such status as “legally mailed.” And you need to know that the obligation to deliver something to someone does not end with your handoff to the USPS. If USPS fails to deliver something, that means *you * have failed to deliver it. For example, if someone buys something from you, and they never receive it, it doesn’t matter that you dropped it in a mailbox, you still owe them the item. You can’t just say, “Take it up with the Postal Service.”

If it really has to get there, and you really need to prove it, use registered mail or one of the express mail services (who track *every * package).

True but there’s not much more you can do, and this is generally accepted as proof.

You can see the outside, to look at the return address for example, but you can’t open it unless you accept it first. If you don’t accept it, they return it, and they can’t return it if it’s been opened.

No, but the signature does provide proof that the recipient received something. Usually when dealing with a company, if you can tell them, “this letter was signed for by Bill Smith on July 17th,” that is the end of the discussion, because they know that they have a Bill Smith in their mailroom and you’re not just making up a name.

Now if Bill Smith comes forward and says, “Yes, I received it, but the envelope was empty,” they can come back at you again, but this rarely happens.

Certified mail doesn’t necessarily mean the recepient signed for it, it sometimes just certifies it made it as far as the recepient’s post office.

But it’s probably the best option to demonstrate you made your best effort to get the mail to the recepient, short of doing it yourself.


No, but you can get restricted delivery which means only the addressee can sign for, rather than just whoever collects the mail.

A cheaper option is available. You can get a slip from the Postal Service that says you mailed something to a certain address on that date. For a tax return, for example, this is the only document you’ll need if the envelope disappears. My wife is a CPA, and I have run this errand for her.

Registered, certified, transmogrified, and even insured won’t guarantee the piece will get there. They just give you the satisfaction of giving more money to the USPS.