There's a difference between "and" and "or". If you've studied symbolic logic or computer programming you're already familiar with the concept.
"And" Means Everybody
Checks made payable to multiple parties using "and" should be signed by everybody named on the payee line. For example, a check made payable to "John and Jane Doe" should be signed by both John and Jane. Keep this in mind next time you write a check to multiple people - if you want to make life easy don't use "and".
If all of the payees own an account (like a joint account for a married couple) it may be possible to deposit the check without both signatures.
"Or" Means Anybody
Checks made payable to multiple parties using "or" can be signed by just one party. For example, a check made payable to "John or Jane Doe" can be signed by either John or Jane.
What if it’s not Clear?
Sometimes a check is issued and you can’t find “and” or “or” anywhere. What happens then? The answer is probably not as clear as you’d like. As far as the law is concerned, you can most likely treat the check as if it says “or.” The Uniform Commercial Code, which generally serves as a template for how these transactions are handled, says that “ambiguous” checks can be negotiated by anybody.
However, your bank doesn’t have to work this way. Banks can always be more careful if they want to, and they might require that everybody endorse the check (they might even require that everybody be present -- not just sign it).
It's not always clear how to handle these checks. You can try your luck and simply attempt to deposit or cash them with just one payee's signature. Or, you can call the banks involved (the bank that the check is drawn on, and the one where you’ll deposit it) and ask what they require. Don’t be surprised if you get conflicting answers from different people. In some cases, checks will be deposited with a single signature -- even if the bank’s rules require everybody’s signature -- because the missing signatures go unnoticed.
Ultimately you’ll have to decide what’s best for you. Consider how easy it is to get everybody’s signature, and whether or not you can tolerate delays if the bank comes back and wants more signatures.
Return to the main page on How to Endorse Checks.