May an agent sign closing documents on a client’s behalf?

QUESTION: I am representing a buyer who is under contract to purchase a property. Unfortunately, there’s just been a death in her family that will prevent her from attending the Settlement, which is scheduled for two days from now. My client has asked me if I can sign the closing documents for her. She is getting a loan so I know there will be a lot of loan documents to sign. We can try to reschedule the Settlement but there are some potential issues with that, so I would like to know if it would be okay for me to sign the closing documents on my client’s behalf.

ANSWER: Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether it’s a good idea to do so, it would be permissible for a real estate agent who has been properly authorized to sign closing documents on a client’s behalf. You most certainly do not have that authority simply by virtue of being the buyer’s real estate agent and your buyer agency agreement does not give you that authority either, assuming you used a standard buyer agency agreement form. An attorney-drafted limited power of attorney given by the buyer to you would be the best way to give you authority to sign closing documents on her behalf. Technically, it could be done with less formality, but a more informal arrangement could raise serious questions about the extent of the authority given or even if authority had been given at all.

However, from a risk management point of view, we think agents should avoid signing closing documents on behalf of their clients unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do agree to do it, in addition to getting proper authority as stated above, we would strongly advise you not to sign any document on your client’s behalf unless you can document that she has reviewed it or had the opportunity to review it, in advance of the Settlement.

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