Who is Responsible for Legal Documents Signed by a Clergyperson?

By September 1, 2020 Church
Who is Responsible for Legal Documents Signed by a Clergyperson?

Among the legal threads holding our society together, the legal signature is the height of indicators of personal and organizational responsibility. Contracts that make entire industries run are predicated upon the signing of name on a line at the end of legal documents. Often these signatory promises are made by one person—a representative—on behalf of an organization, which must then keep that individual’s promise even if that person somehow ceases to be a member of that organization. And, as churches must operate within the rubric of the larger society, they are expected to abide by similar rules.

The key to any such signatory scenario, of course, is the matter of representation. Those who sign the documents on the church’s behalf must be vested with the legal authority to do so, if those documents are to be held enforceable in court. In general, this authority can be either expressed outright or implied and may be inherent to the position the signer wields.

Clergy who sign documents using their names must be careful to ensure that they have authority to sign on behalf of the church. If in the course of a lawsuit it is shown that the clergy-member was not in fact authorized by the church to act as a representative for purposes of legal documentation, the clergy member could be legally liable for the contract.  If a clergy member has any doubt as to whether they have the authority to sign a legal document, they should clarify this before signing.  Common ways to clarify authority could be church board policies giving blanket authority up to a certain amount or a resolution passed by the Church’s governing board authorizing the signature.

When a church or nonprofit organization in Arizona needs legal aid or advice about signatory representation, Provident Law’s nonprofit attorneys are here to help. We recognize how essential these organizations are to society, and we provide broad transactional and general counsel services—including review of and crafting of policies of who may sign in legal representation—to keep them running smoothly. Contact us to learn more.