Is It Legal to Sign on Someone Else’s Behalf? (2021 Update)
As a general rule, signing on someone else's behalf is legal so long as you are authorised to sign for them. Find out more here.
Although handwritten signatures aren’t used nearly as often as they used to be, in instances where they are required, authenticity is taken very seriously. Sometimes, you will be asked to sign on someone else’s behalf and it can be unclear what the laws actually are. Put simply, it all comes down to whether the person you are signing on behalf of has given their authority. If they do not, signing as someone else is fraudulent.
Here, we will outline the circumstances where you can sign on someone else’s behalf, and what you should do to make sure you’re not inadvertently committing fraud.
It depends on the document
Different documents are treated with a varying degree of seriousness if you sign for someone else. For instance, when signing for a parcel from Australia Post, they normally allow you to sign for someone else if you tell them that you have permission to do so. They may ask you to present identification however to prove your identity. In other circumstances, such as applying for a bank loan or mortgage, the signature needs to be that of the intended signee.
More formal documents such as a contract for sale of land require an original signature under the Statute of Frauds. However, these can be signed by someone else with permission.
The ordinary process for other documents such as letters, forms or general legal documents is that you write ‘p.p’ before your signature, to demonstrate that you are signing for someone else. This will show the reader that you’ve signed with the authority of the intended signee.
It’s also important to note here that many formal documents require you to show identification (such as your driver’s licence) in order for it to be witnessed. Signing on someone else’s behalf in this circumstance won’t be as simple as placing ‘p.p’ before your signature.
There are also particular documents, such as tax returns, which require the signature of the person who’s taxable income it is and cannot be signed by anyone else
What is ‘p.p’ and when should I use it?
In company documents or more formal correspondence, the prefix ‘p.p’ is written before the signature of the person who is to Sign on Someone Else’s Behalf. This signifies that the document is being signed under ‘procurement’, with ‘p.p’ standing for ‘per procurationem’. Per procurationem means ‘through the agency of’, signifying an acknowledgement that another person is signing the document, but that they are doing so with authorisation. Below your signature will usually be the name and position of the intended signee.
If you are signing something formal with the express authority of the intended signee, put ‘p.p’ before your signature, as it will advise the reader that you are signing on someone else’s behalf.
You work for a lawyer who is currently in Court. They need to send an urgent letter to a solicitor which needs to be hand-delivered to ensure receipt. The lawyer has asked you to sign for them, above their name and position title at the end of the letter. You write ‘p.p’ in the signature space and sign your name after it. This validates the letter, in informing the reader the letter has been signed on behalf of the lawyer with authorisation.
When does this become illegal?
Section 253 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) states that falsifying a document is a crime. Further, it is punishable by 10 years imprisonment. Signing a document as someone else without that person’s permission falls under this category as forgery. There are similar provisions in the criminal legislation of other states.
If the other person is unaware that you’re signing something for them and you’re gaining something, then you’re committing forgery. This is based on having the ‘intention to defraud’ someone. This applies even if you thought you had permission to sign something. It’s important to always have the permission of the person who you are signing on behalf of.
Electronic Signatures (eSignatures)
Electronic signatures (eSignatures) are common these days, with many platforms offering eSignature tools online for free. Whether this be by way of an image of a persons signature, simply typing a person’s name, or using an eSignature platform, in many ways eSignatures have removed the need for someone to sign on another’s behalf. This has also in turn, gone a long way in reducing incidences of fraud.
However, if you have access to someone’s eSignature, you must still only use it where you have that person’s permission. So long as you have the authority given to you in writing, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you used the eSignature of another personally legally.
Never sign your name to anything without reading it first
When adding your signature to something, it’s important to understand the legal significance it carries. This is especially the case where you’re signing for someone else if you’re their power of attorney, This is because you’re making decisions for that person, and your judgment needs to reflect what is in the best interests of that person. Even if you’re simply using ‘p.p’ in the absence of the intended signor, it’s still wise to understand what you’re attaching your name to. Make sure you read the document in front of you, and ask the intended signee if there’s anything that you’re unsure about.
Whilst signing for someone else has become less common, you might still have to from time to time. As long as you’re signing with the permission of the intended signee, then it is legal to sign for them except for some documents which carry a greater legal significant (such as wills). If you are unsure whether you have the legal right to sign something, check with the person who you are signing on behalf of or consult a lawyer.
Jackie is the Content Manager at Lawpath and manages the content team. She has a Law/Arts (Politics) degree from Macquarie University and is a solicitor in NSW. She's interested in how technology can help shape the future legal landscape.