Though the fact may surprise some 21st-century Virginians, women did not have the same rights as men for most of our nation’s history. From 1769 onward, English Common Law treated a married man and woman as one person (coverture), meaning the wife’s identity disappeared1 into the man’s (though the man’s identity remained). Not until 1839 did any state give women the right to own property. Right to vote? 1920. Right to serve on a jury? 1947. Equal pay? 1963 (though evidence suggests continued issues with that). Though some of this sounds positively prehistoric, legal documents are a whole other arena regarding a woman’s power to sign her name, or yours. Can situations arise where only one spouse signs for two?
Getting a Power of Attorney (POA)
One area in which a spouse can legally sign for the other spouse is under a power of attorney (POA). POA comes in several forms, each useful for specific issues that typically arise in a couple’s lives. The types of POA include:
- Non-durable POA — This has a limited shelf life; it is useful for a window of time, for particular financial transactions or a medical procedure to occur on a given date, and once the event or events finish, so does the non-durable POA
- Limited POA — One-time use only! She signs your name to the mortgage, sale of your property, or, while you are visiting your offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, to acquire on your behalf that glam, low-mileage, 1987 Buick GNX from Classic Cars of Fredericksburg (a bargain at $95,000)
- Springing POA — This POA “springs” into action only under a predetermined condition in the future, such as your total incapacitation; it does not expire until after the predetermined event has occurred, and your spouse can legally sign on your behalf once it is triggered
- Medical POA — This POA puts your wife in charge of medical decisions on your behalf, such as when you are incapacitated due to stroke, coma, or other condition; she signs to indicate she is making decisions on your behalf that are in your best interest (so-called “pulling the plug” choices)
- Durable POA — This is the big one; if she has durable POA over you, you cede to her your signature and decision-making on everything, once you are incapacitated, and it only expires when you … er … expire
Regardless of the circumstances (except for a Medical POA), your wife can sign your name on checks, sign your name to contracts, chisel it in stone, sign legal documents on your behalf, and conduct business under your name while the POA is in force.
P.P. and Forgery
Another way your wife can legally sign your name is through a p.p., per procurationem. Legally, when she signs for you, that’s called procuration, which is why the Latin abbreviation is p.p.
This does not mean your wife can sign for you without checking with you first, stick “p.p.” on the end, and feel righteous. If you did not give her permission to sign on your behalf, she’s committing forgery, which is serious illegality.
She would get from you, before signing, a notarized letter stating that for this-or-that purpose, you give her procuration for such-and-such a time.
Businesses use procuration all the time, as when a personal secretary signs Mr. Rockhead Sylvester Nate Oscar George Slate for the Quarry and Gravel Company on employee checks, then writes “p.p.” and his or her name next to it.
In no case is a wife able to sign for you without your express permission. She cannot engage in a contract or life insurance policy and sign your name. Under the Code of Virginia, that is forgery, which falls under § 18.2-172, a section with the deliciously weird legal name, “Forging, uttering, etc., other writings.” (Sounds like the legislators ran out of creative energy on this one.)
Forgery is signing someone else’s name to a document (like that convenient insurance policy for a million bucks, naming your wife Betty as beneficiary if you, Barney, have a boulder bounce off your noggin).
Uttering is her assertion by her words or her actions that the signature she knows to be forged is yours. This could apply to a check endorsement, for example, where she claims she is depositing money but instead signing your name, cashing the check and pocketing it.
The penalties of forgery to your wife are not trivial. Both forgery and uttering are Class 5 Felonies under Virginia law, which means her little “Barney Rubble” signature on the sale of your house — done behind your back and without your permission — is punishable by at least a year and up to ten years in a Virginia state prison, a fine up to $2,500, or both.
So Your Wife Signed Your Name Illegally …
If you find that your wife has illegally signed your name to anything relevant to your married life, divorce, financial affairs, or children, you need first to seek out an attorney. Avoid getting into a she-said-he-said with her; secure your evidence so she does not attempt to destroy the documents with her forgery on it.
Once you find one document with your name signed but not by you (and without your permission), assume she did it more than once. Keep looking. Look for missing checks; go online to inspect your credit card accounts, banking, and insurance documents. Gather and pass on to your attorney every instance you find where she signed on your behalf without you knowing it. Keep in mind, too, she could have signed life or medical insurance policies you do not know about.
If you are victimized by her forgery, call The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184 to learn more about powers of attorney, forgery, and our personal favorite, uttering.