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I recently had to sign some paperwork for a health insurance contract in Greece. I was in the UK at the time, so I had to have the thing mailed to me, sign it, and then mail it back. It occurred to me that I could have instead asked my parents, who were in Greece, to sign it for me, forging my signature.

We didn't do this, but I was wondering if it would actually be illegal or even problematic at all: the only person who could object would be me and it would have been done with my knowledge and approval. I wanted to sign, so they would not be putting my name to something I hadn't approved of.

Could we have actually done this legally? Would there have been any legal issues if anyone found out as long as I, the person who is supposed to have signed but didn't physically put pen to paper, do not contest it and do not object? Would we have done anything wrong from a legal perspective? And, assuming there is a problem, who would be culpable? Would it be the person who signed in my name, or me, or both?

I am primarily interested in an answer for Greece, but answers about any legal system are welcome.

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    – feetwet
    Apr 1 at 23:40

6 Answers 6

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IANAL

The Greek Criminal Code says about forgery (translation mine):

Whoever makes a forged or forges a document with the intent to use it to deceive someone else about a fact that can have legal consequences gets punished with imprisonment [from 10 days to 5 years] and a fine. […]

An element of deception is required for the crime of forgery to be committed, which I am not seeing in your example. You are the beneficiary of your own signature's forgery, you have verbally approved it, and the thing your forged signature would be placed on is true. Therefore I think that this action would not be a crime.

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  • Ah, thanks! Now I wonder if point 2 there would apply: "anyone who, with the same objective as above, uses a forged document". I guess the objective again refers to the intent to use it to deceive which is not the case here. So it still would be OK or at least could be OK.
    – terdon
    Mar 31 at 21:01
  • @terdon yeah the objective seems to be the deception. Point 2 seems to cover cases where you knowingly used a forged document without having made the forgery yourself. Mar 31 at 22:34
  • I always thought that forging someone signature was considered a crime covered by fraud. Which means that it has to have a victim
    – Questor
    Apr 1 at 20:43
  • I wonder if OP could walk this back at a later stage, e.g. getting out of a (suddenly unfavorable) contract by pointing out they didn't in fact sign it (if OP doesn't provide evidence that they consented to the forged signature, how could the insurance company disprove their claim that they did not sign it?). If that is possible, then the other party (insurance company in this case) could argue that they're a victim of such a fraud even before OP has decided to renege on the contract. As far as I know, this is why you need to document the authority you give others to act on your behalf.
    – Flater
    Apr 1 at 23:44
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Law.SE encourages answers to a question asked with respect to one place's law under the laws of other jurisdictions with which the person providing the answer is more familiar. I am doing that here, despite not providing any answer concerning Greek law.

Another closely related question, which I also don't answer under Greek law, is whether ratification after the fact of your own signature on a document, when not specifically authorized by you in advance and without indicating that it wasn't made by you, is a crime or has other non-criminal consequences. This depends to a great extent on the context in which it comes up. Usually, under the laws of most Western style legal systems, if someone is trying to prove that you signed a document and you ratify it after the fact, this make the contract valid and binding upon you, even if you admit that you didn't actually sign it, and that you didn't authorize someone to sign that specific document in advance for you.

In the United States, the proper and best practices approach is for someone signing on your behalf with your permission in advance to do so, to print your name and then say "by [their name] as agent of [your name]" followed by their signature of their own name.

The fine details, when this is not done, however, differ in fine detail from one U.S. state to another and based upon the kind of document involved and the context in which a challenged to the authenticity of the signature is raised.

Generally speaking, if this is not done, then, when push comes to shove, it depends a lot on the nature of the document signed, the exact language of any forgery statute sought to be enforced, and the context in which the challenge to the validity of the signature comes up.

In the case of a health insurance contract, the most likely situation would be that the only legal consequence would be that you are bound by the forged signature that you authorized. Even in the context of a health insurance contract, however, exactly what was being signed would matter. A mere signature agreeing to the contract would be less problematic. A signature representing that facts are true under penalty of perjury or in a notarized affidavit or acknowledgement, would be more problematic and might be a minor crime (although perjury requires that a misstatement be material, which one could argue that it was not, if the signature was authorized by you and you would have been able to sign and represent that all facts you swore were true were really true).

In the case of real estate documents in New York State and some other jurisdictions, there is a principle called the "equal dignities law" that requires any document authorizing an agent to sign on your behalf to have the same level of formality (i.e. a signed writing and notarization) as the underlying document being signed by the agent on your behalf. This minority rule doctrine is designed to prevent verbal authorizations for someone to sign on your behalf and to prevent unnotarized powers of attorney from being used to sign a document that requires a notarization.

For some government or official documents, a signature without an acknowledgement that it is signed by someone else could be more problematic. There would often be statutes criminalizing this in the case of very specific kinds of documents on a case by case basis.

It is almost always a crime in the United States for someone not identified in the notarization by name, either as an agent or actual signatory, to sign the notarized document.

A comment by WeatherVane to another answer notes that the abbreviation "pp" by a signature, meaning per pro was routinely used in U.K. professional correspondence by a secretary who had been instructed to send a letter, in the absence of the writer. When this was done, the Secretary made no attempt to copy the writer's signature and no POA was needed. This practice was never widely adopted, however, in the United States, and draws from a common law legal tradition that is not shared by Greece.

I'm not familiar enough with the laws of Greece to be comfortable that the way that this issue is analyzed in Greece would be the same as it is under United States law.

Greece has a civil law system in which the whole body of law regarding contractual formalities like the necessity of signed writings, the disclosure of agency relationships, the notarization of documents, and the formalities involved in executing government documents, which differs materially from the law on those subject in common law countries like the United States and England.

For example, until 200-300 years ago, one of the formalities involved in a transfer of real estate ownership in the common law world was the "livery of seisen" which involved the delivery of a handful of dirt from the seller to the buyer, something that was never part of the law in civil law countries and derived from traditional Celtic and/or Germanic tribal customs. Civil law legal traditions, in contrast, derive largely from Roman law which fell into disuse when the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century CE, but was revived and "received" as a source of legal authority again on a widespread basis in the early modern period starting in about the 15th century CE. This process of reception was then standardized and modified for local and modern practice with the adoption of civil codes starting with the French Civil Code, in the early 19th century CE, and the Greek Civil Code was part of this movement spurred upon by Greece gaining its independence in the Greek Revolution that began in 1821 and was adopted as part of the process of establishing Greece's national identity at that time.

Greece's law on these topics would be much more similar to the law of other civil law countries in Europe and Latin America. But on this specific practical issue concerning contract execution formalities, I would not even been strongly confident that Greece's law on the subject would be the same as the law in, for example, France or Argentina or Germany. Greek people have been signing official written documents for much longer than almost any other country in the world that still borrows anything from its local legal traditions (with the possible exception of China). And, it is not implausible that some Greek specific traditions have evolved that are not shared by other legal systems whose history of using signed legal document is 2500-2800 years shorter.

I don't have enough confident knowledge of how it is done in Greece in real life to provide an answer to the title question under the designated Greek law.

Historically (going all of the way back to the earliest written documents of the Sumerians, Egyptians, Akkadians, and Hittites), aristocrats, government officials, entity officers, clergy, and certain other important business people used personal or entity official seals to approve official documents in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and Latin America.

The use of personal seals of individuals was already considered old fashioned, and was an obscure footnote in legal history, a hundred and fifty years ago. The use of signature seals had reached a similar status for entities and clergy, and for pretty much anyone other than notaries and certain government officials, by sometime around fifty years ago (give or take, and varying somewhat from country to country). This historical footnote isn't relevant to the current law in modern Greece, but it is relevant to the ongoing use of signature seals in Asia discussed below.

In East Asia and Southeast Asia (basically, places which were historically influenced culturally, politically, and legally by China), it is common to use official personal seals to sign important documents, particularly in the case of middle class and higher social class individuals who can afford to have a seal made for them, in lieu of a manually signed signature of the person signing a contract or document. It is also ubiquitous for entities in these places to sign important written documents with an official seal of the entity (sometimes informally called a "chop").

In part, this is a product of a different writing system in countries that used Chinese characters, both directly, and because the percentage of people who were literate enough to write their own names legibly with a calligraphy pen and ink was much smaller than it was in Europe at comparable times.

In these countries, possession of someone's personal seal is typically sufficient to establish apparent authority to make a binding signature on behalf of the person or entity to whom the seal belongs, without a separate written power of attorney document.

So, if this issue arose, for example, in Taiwan, rather than in Greece, if your parents had possession of your personal seal, their use of it to sign a contract with your permission would probably not be a problem. But, if your parents crafted a counterfeit seal to sign the contract on your behalf, even with your permission to do so, this would probably be illegal and would probably be a crime.

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    +1 for the [united-states] section. The rest… add a bunch of words to the answer but IMO not much value, and I would not upvote them if they were separate answers. Still, a good answer with a not-so-useful appendix tacked on is still a good answer. Mar 30 at 14:21
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    Yes, it would be really helpful if you could give clear answers to "is this illegal and, if so, who is culpable?" in each of the sections. A lot of interesting stuff here, which I enjoyed reading, and thank you, but I fear most of it isn't relevant. Also note that the context is specifically that I do not contest the signature, so any challenge would come from the other party.
    – terdon
    Mar 30 at 20:08
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In Australia, it is not illegal to tell lies, except in some specific circumstances. Forging a signature is a specific kind of lie, which becomes illegal when "uttering a false document".

A false document isn't criminal just because it is forged:

"A person must not make a false document with the intention that he or she, or another person, shall use it to induce another person to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to that other person's, or to another person's prejudice."

[CRIMES ACT 1958 - SECT 83A] Victoria Australia

Regarding the original question "I recently had to sign some paperwork for a health insurance contract"

That contract would certainly be unenforceable if signed with a forged signature, but (In my state, in my country), would only be criminal if used to another persons prejudice. That's a bit tricky.

You could argue that if the forgery was done in good faith, and the conditions of the contract were met in good faith, that it was not to the prejudice of an insurance company to pay claims (their whole business model depends on people making claims on insurance: if not for the payment of claims, nobody would insure)

I'm not knowledgeable enough to know how that would go.

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    Would this even be a false document though? The signature is there to indicate that I have read the document and agree to be bound by its clauses. Given that I have indeed read it and do agree to be bound and want to be bound, would it even be a false document if I just ask someone else to sign it for me? The spirit of the signature is correct, it is the letter that is not since I did not sign it physically myself.
    – terdon
    Mar 30 at 13:47
  • A "signature" is a specific legal thing. Yes, someone can sign, using their own signature, for you in specific circumstances. Yes, a false signature is a false document, and Yes, creating a false contract document is not criminal unless it hurts someone.
    – david
    Mar 30 at 22:09
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This is a moving target, and customary practices in legal requirements regarding signatures are changing. Specifically, there was a time not long ago when court filings of pleadings and motions required an original copy along with the required number of other copies. In that circumstance, an original signature would customarily be expected on the original copy, but I don't know if there would be any push-back if the original copy was simply another photocopy. Nowadays, in contrast, pleadings and motions are often filed as just one .pdf document in the court's online filing system. In that case, there is no physical way to determine if the .pdf document had an original signature. (Another obvious example is the advent of electronic signatures.)

I have an AAS-Legal Assistant degree (with honors), and I have over 15 years of pro se litigation experience, primarily in prison civil-rights actions. See, e.g., Pratt v. Sumner, 807 F.2d 817 (9th Cir. 1987). However, I am not authorized to represent others in court, which would constitute the crime of 'practicing law without a license'.

Nonetheless, an exception has been carved out for prisoners helping other prisoners with legal work, and there have been several occasions where I prepared pleadings or motions for other prisoners who were in separate prisons or even different states, and I forged their signatures and submitted documents. One was a successful appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a fellow prisoner, Michael Vanderhook, who was in a different prison while I was in an Arizona Special Management Unit. (See, Vanderhook v. Coleman, 988 F.2d 126 (9th Cir. 1993), 1993 WL 43857.) The logistics of getting papers back and forth between us through a third party on the outside was simply too delay-ridden to be useful.

Before saying that what I was doing was criminal, bear in mind that most crimes have an element of intent, and their was certainly no criminal intent on my part, although that argument gets slippery if the intent gets defined simply a conscious will to do a prohibited act.

That said, I certainly had no shame or concern about what I was doing, which may say something about why I was in a Special Management Unit. Nonetheless, I was doing good for others and did nothing evil to the courts (except, perhaps, for those courts that loathe work). I am also persuaded that a logical extension of the right of prisoners to help other prisoners with legal work would include helping in ways that deal with the restrictions of prison itself, specifically the signing of documents where one prisoner has already authorized another prisoner to do the work. (I would not risk signing an affidavit in that manner unless I was quite sure that the other prisoner would adopt it, and I do mean quite sure.) As a further extension, the right of self-representation historically included the right to be represented by a 'next-of-friend.' Although no one can legally set up shop as a 'next-of-friend' attorney without being licensed, it may nonetheless be arguable that the right of self-representation still includes the right to be helped by anyone who is not trying to charge the public for such a service. As to signatures, such a right may not go so far as to allow a 'next-of-friend' to forge a party's signature on documents, and a party sensibly could be required to review, approve and sign documents prepared on their behalf.

Within the last few years, I helped a family member defend against a consumer contract case (which settled for a little over half of what was demanded). While preparing pleadings, motions, discovery requests, etc., I had an .svg copy of his signature that I would insert into his pleadings and motions before turning them into .pdf documents for electronic filing with the court. I also disclosed in early filings that I was helping the family member, and I disclosed my background and my lack of experience in litigating such cases. There was never any intent to deceive.

In your particular circumstance involving the laws of Greece, I am neither confident nor qualified to advise you. But, as a practical matter, any officials or courts that you might face in Greece would be mindful of your intent. If you could do it the long hard way, they might still expect you to do it that way, and they might even get their panties in a bunch if you were time constrained; but, on average, they probably wouldn't care. (The problem is when their response would not be 'on average'.)

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  • Well written Pratt. Commendable work you did with your listed cases. Apr 1 at 13:59
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In the US, someone can sign for you if they have a Power of Attorney. While Power of Attorney is possible based only on verbal instructions, without documentation the other party on the contract might not accept it. The person with a power of attorney will sign their own name for yours, with a POA or pp. I bought a house like this, with my sister signing all the forms. There were notarized & witnessed documents that made it all legal, giving her permission to do so. Buying a house in the US involves probably signing at least a dozen documents.

Signing someone else's name will render a contract void, or make you subject to criminal penalties, depending on what is being signed. Fraud would typically be the charge, but only if the actions met the other elements of the offense (mostly trying to get something out of it they shouldn't). A contract signed in your name by someone pretending to be you would be a problem. The problem is the other party doesn't know that you did not sign the document and there is no legal trail to show why that is okay. There is no legal method for signing contacts that lets someone pretend to be someone else even if authorized. The legal method is signing your own name with POA.

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    Sure, PoA is a different thing. Can you explain what exact law would be broken if someone else signs in my name but with my express permission and knowledge? Who is committing the fraud here, is it me or the person who signed or both? And why is it fraud since I am absolutely consenting to the act so nobody is doing anything behind my back?
    – terdon
    Mar 29 at 19:56
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    pp is per pro and in UK was routinely used in professional correspondence by a secretary who had been instructed to send a letter, in the absence of the writer. They made no attempt to copy the writer's signature and no POA was needed. Mar 29 at 20:04
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    @WeatherVane FWIW, this abbreviation and practice never came into wide use in the United States.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 29 at 21:46
  • I think POA arrangements are usually used when authorizing someone to sign on your behalf routinely, without your express consent on each document. That's different from the situation in the OP.
    – Barmar
    Mar 29 at 22:05
  • @Barmar a POA can be general or limited. The one I referenced for buying a house was for that transaction only.
    – Tiger Guy
    Mar 30 at 2:35
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Yes, In most common law scenarios it is not legally correct to do so. But No, one would bother to check the signature so closely on insurance documents from their own clients. Usually signature scrutiny comes in to play for liability cases such as bank cheques, property transfer deeds, wills, and on vendor card swiped transactional receipts. Most likely they would assume you signed it and not doubt it unless they had a reason to cancel your claim for any reason.

Everyone involved or had knowledge is legally bound to be charged under the criminal law of the state of Greece. 1. You are the main deceitful abettor. 2. Your father who signed is the first degree deceitful culprit who cheated the insurance company knowingly about the forged documents. 3. Your mother is accessory to the whole deceitful activity taking place, from the intent to the action being carried out and completed once the document is handed and accepted by the insurance agency. In case if caught, which is doubtful, best case scenario the policy and claims are considered void.

As such, in the above best case scenario they might fine you as per their insurance regulating legislative norms. Worst case scenario: They fine you and prosecute you for forgery, deception, fraud, and extortion.

To make what you want legal, just sign over a Power Of attorney, granting your desired person the rights to sign on your behalf, which they would do so with their own legal signature and always attach a copy of this document for reference. Now this act becomes legal and you are not bound for any harm. Even an authorising agent sponsoring letter would suffice in some cases. All this just to avoid petty shipping charges is redundant since you have a lot to lose.

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    Forging a signature is never legal with or without consent, approval, or knowledge. Whether you grasp this or not, there is no way around forged signatures. Apr 1 at 12:00

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