Is It Legal to Sign on Someone Else’s Behalf? (2024 Update)

How to sign on someone else's behalf legally

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were expected to sign on someone else’s behalf, but weren’t sure if it was legal or not? It may be in an office set-up when you were expected to sign for a senior colleague or boss, or in a personal situation when you were expected to sign for a family member or friend.
For the uninitiated, this may look illegal, but did you know that you can
sign on someone else’s behalf as so long as you are authorised to sign for them? 

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. 

In this article, we shed more light on the right way to sign for someone else as well as share the ins and outs of when this is not acceptable. 

Read along. 

Table of Contents

When does signing for someone else become illegal?

Signing a document as someone else without that person’s permission falls under this category as a forgery.

This is based on having the ‘intention to defraud’ someone. This may apply even where you thought you had the person’s consent to sign on their behalf.

Section 253 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) states that falsifying a document is a crime. Further, it is punishable by 10 years imprisonment. 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. It’s important to always have the permission of the person before you sign on their behalf.

How to legally sign for someone else in Australia?

Different documents are treated with varying degrees of seriousness if you sign for someone else. 

For instance, when signing for a parcel from any e-commerce vendor such as eBay, Iconic, or Australia Post, the vendor normally allows 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 the sale of land require an original signature under the Statute of Frauds. However, these can be signed by someone else with permission.

In essence, you can sign legally using two methods. 

  1. Using a ‘p.p’
  2. Using a Power of Attorney

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What is ‘p.p’ and when should I use it?

In correspondence or certain company documents, the prefix ‘p.p’ may be 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 ‘procurationem’. 

Per procurationem is Latin for ‘through the agency of’, signifying an acknowledgment 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.

It is not advised to sign using this method for documents that are intended to be legally binding.

Example

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.

How to use a Power of Attorney to Sign a Document 

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows an assigned person to sign on behalf of a person who is incapacitated, medically unfit or deceased. It may also come in handy when the original signee is travelling or has entrusted the POA holder to sign on their behalf. 

In Australia, the Power of Attorney can differ from one state to another and can be held by a family member or a designated lawyer/staff in case of companies. 

Can Electronic Signatures (eSignatures) be used to sign on behalf of someone? 

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 person’s 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 and 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 or 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 signee, 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 significance (such as Wills). 

If you are unsure whether you have the legal right to sign something, check with the person you are signing for or consult a lawyer.

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