Signing Someone Else's Name (& your initials)

I believe it is commonly done - at least in my field, reports that require signatures by Qualified Signers were commonly signed by secretaries, with their initials added. (I use the past tense because this seems to have become less common in recent years - probably due to the use of electronic signatures.)

Is this legal?

My father (a Very Smart Guy) says it is, and says he does tax returns for other family members and signs their names and his initials. But he cautions that he only does this because he prepares these returns himself, so he knows what he’s signing on their behalf. If you randomly sign something for someone else without knowing what you’re signing, even if you initial it, you’re running the risk that should questions be raised about the doc, the guy you signed it for will deny authorizing you to sign it, and then you’re in the hot seat.

So what’s the deal with this?

What’s going on here is called agency. Is person B authorized to act as an agent for person A? If so, B’s signature for A is legally binding on A. Whether third-party C accepts this signature is another matter. In the context you describe, agency is established by a pattern or practice. In other contexts, it’s established by a power of attorney. BTW, the agent’s initialling the signature is neither necessary nor sufficient. An uninitialled signature is valid if agency exists and an initiallled one is not valid if not. A grey area exists where A has often permitted B to act as agent but did not authorize a particular signature. There, agency by estoppel may protect C, but it’s not something people rely on intentionally. And, yes, in that scenario, A has a claim against B.

The way I learned it in the miilitary was that the typed document would be prepared with the first person’s signature block. The second person would “sign for” the first by signing the 2nd person’s name prefaced by the word “for.”

There is also the issue of knowing if the first person would’ve actually signed the document had he been present. Some years ago, one of my fellow PN1s got an earful from both me and our Leading Chief for “signing for” me a pay document he knew full well I would not have approved.

I don’t know if the situations are the same, but just last year, while acting as Power of Attorney for my mother, the law office instructed me to sign everything:

“MyName with POA for MyMother”.

It was a pain, as there usually wasn’t a whole lot of room on the signature lines, but whatever.

I was told in no uncertain terms that both names must be fully spelled out, and initials were not acceptable.

Try writing an English name in a Korean form! The Korean writing system has one syllable written in the space of one English letter and Korean names are 3 syllables long usually, with a number of people having two syllable names. That can lead to some funny things. The name of my church in Korea begins with the Korean for “Jesus Christ.” Well, a year and a half ago, I got a certified letter from the church admin office in Seoul. The notification form from the post office had just enough room for the postman to write in Korean “Jesus Christ.” When I told my mom about it, she said, “Don’t keep the Lord waiting! Hang up the phone and go get it right now!”