X Marks the Spot

Popstar Taylor Swift – who is always on top of what is hip and trendy – was recently quoted as saying that young fans never request her to sign autographs.  Instead, her fans request that she take selfies with them.  In this modern age where most people have cameras built into their cellphones and thus are ready to snap a picture at any time, it makes sense that an autograph collection is now as quaint as a typewriter or a record player.  With respect to legal documents, however, the signed name is still paramount.

In a typical estate planning portfolio, I require my clients to sign their names to various documents 15 to 20 times!  Each type of document requires its own set of execution procedures.  Some documents, such as the wills, are witnessed by two disinterested adults.  Other documents, such as trusts, powers of attorney, and deeds, are typically notarized.  If a document is notarized, the client must also sign the corresponding page in my notary book.

By the time my clients have completed all of their signatures, I joke that now they know how celebrities feel.  If Ms. Swift is correct (and when has she ever not been correct?), that joke won’t make sense in the future.  

Often, my clients’ hands get so tired from signing their name so often that they comment their signatures looked very different at the beginning of our signing session than at the end when they no longer have the stamina to write neatly.  

Sometimes, I will have older clients who physically struggle to sign their names legibly.  One time, I felt so bad about asking my client to sign so many documents that I started to wonder if there were a few documents that were less important and that we could somehow skip.  As I went through my mental checklist of each estate planning document and whether or not it was really necessary, I reminded myself of the purpose of each document.  I realized that there was nothing superfluous and my client soldiered on.  A few months later, she had a health problem and she needed several of the documents that she had signed.  Fortunately, neither of us folded under the pressure during the signing session and she had her documents properly in place.      

Occasionally, clients might be physically challenged to the point where they are unable to sign their names.  The question arises as to whether they are able to write an “X” or some other mark in place of their name.  Although the law has not yet caught up to the concept of using a selfie as a replacement for a signature, there are specific rules that allow a signature by mark to be effective under certain circumstances.

Pursuant to both the California Civil Code and the California Code of Civil Procedure, signers who are unable to write their names may instead make a mark.  Two witnesses who should not be relatives or have any connection to the transaction must sign their names near the mark acknowledging that the signer in fact made the mark.  Furthermore, one of the witnesses must write the signer’s name near the mark.  

Such a mark may be notarized as well, provided that the same procedure is followed.  The notary should record the witnesses’ names in the notary journal and the witnesses should sign the journal as well.  

The “signature by mark” procedure is a practical approach to lessen the burden on those who are physically unable to sign their full names.  If the law ever does catch up to the modern phenomenon described by Ms. Swift, it is unclear whether that would further lessen the burden or cause a new problem of having to “dress-up” just to execute a document.

KRASA LAW, Inc. is located at 704-D Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, California and Kyle may be reached at 831-920-0205831-920-0205.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only.  Reading this article does not establish an attorney/client relationship.  Before acting on any of the information presented in this article, you should consult a competent attorney who is licensed to practice law in your community.