Before Signing, Talk to your Special Needs Advisor

Before Signing, Talk to your Special Needs Advisor

Before Signing Anything on Behalf of Someone Else, Talk to Your Special Needs Advisor.  Individuals lack the ability to sign documents for various reasons.  In some cases, a person has suffered from a disability since birth and has never had the mental capacity to make decisions independently.  In other cases, an injury or medical condition could render a healthy person temporarily unable to sign.  In many of these cases, especially those involving mental illness, there may be times when someone is capable of signing on one day and incapable of signing the next day.  One thing all of these various scenarios have in common is that a friend or relative should never sign anything for a person who lacks capacity unless they have authority to act on behalf of the incapacitated person.

Signing another person's name on a document, or filling out an electronic form while claiming to be another person, can be a crime if you do it without the proper authorization. If you are confronted with a situation where you are being pressured to sign a loved one's name for them, or if you believe that signing on your friend or relative's behalf without her consent would be just a matter of convenience, stop and contact your special needs advisor.

There are several ways to obtain authority to sign documents on behalf of another person. 

  • In a case where someone is physically unable to sign a document but mentally competent, it may be possible for the person who can't sign to verbally instruct another person in the same room to sign the document on his or her behalf.  Many states allow notary publics to fulfill this duty.
  • Another common way to delegate signature authority is through the use of a durable power of attorney.  Durable powers of attorney can provide either broad or limited authority but cannot be used in all cases.  The Social Security Administration does not usually honor durable powers of attorney.  Instead, they require a signatory to meet a separate set of criteria before signing.  Durable powers of attorney also have to be executed by a person who is competent to sign, so they cannot be used by a person who has never had the mental capacity to sign documents.
  • In cases where a durable power of attorney is not feasible, an interested family member or friend may have to petition a court for guardianship or conservatorship of an incapacitated person before being able to sign on his or her behalf.  Guardianship often involves a lengthy court process and can be expensive, but it can provide the legal authorization to sign most documents and it gives the person with the disability additional protection.

Signing on someone else's behalf without their permission is never a good idea no matter how convenient it might be.  However, in some rare cases (like an application for Social Security disability benefits), a person may be able to sign on behalf of another without prior authorization. These situations are rare so you should never sign anything for someone else without first speaking with your special needs advisor.