What is signing by Proxy and is it legitimate?

March 23, 2020

Signing by ProxyIt is not uncommon for situations to exist in which a person is capable of executing legal documents but is not physically able to execute documents due to physical limitations. For example, a person who is visually impaired or a person who is paralyzed may have the cognitive ability to make decisions, but he or she may lack the physical ability to sign on the dotted line. In situations like these, Tennessee law provides a method in which a person can execute legal documents by directing another person to sign on his or her behalf. Tennessee Code Annotated §32-1-104(a) allows a testator, a.k.a. the person executing the document, to direct another to sign on the testator’s behalf. 

Estate planning documents are legally valid and may be signed by a third party on behalf of another person if certain procedures are followed. First, the third party, a.k.a. Proxy, must sign the documents at the direction of the person and in the person’s physical presence. This is not a process you want to complicate with video conferencing- all parties should be in the physical presence and line of sight of each other. Furthermore, the Proxy’s signature must be witnessed by two disinterested parties and notarized. It is advisable to execute an additional affidavit at the time of signing which fully conveys that the person executing the document possesses the necessary legal capacity to execute his or her documents but is choosing to execute the documents by proxy for a valid reason. In total, five  disinterested individuals participate in the signing- the person executing the document, the notary, two witnesses, and the person serving as the Proxy.

The COVID-19 Pandemic presents an unusual set of circumstances in which physically able-bodied individuals, who otherwise would execute their documents by simply signing them, may choose to utilize proxy signature in order to minimize risk of infection by eliminating physical contact with materials (pens and paper to name a few) that could transmit the virus. While minimizing physical contact with surfaces and materials is a noteworthy goal during the current COVID-19 crisis, it is also essential to plan out the signing carefully so that all participating parties can practice social distancing in a spacious venue during the occasion.