Coronavirus and Social Distancing – How Do I Sign My Will?

The law requires wills to be signed in the presence of two witnesses, who cannot be beneficiaries under the will. But with the outbreak of COVID 19, many people were wondering how they can validly sign their wills whilst still practising social distancing. This was a pressing question, especially as there has never been more important time to have a valid will. Click here for our article on the importance of estate Planning in the time of Covid-19.

During the course of 2020, the NSW parliament passed legislation stipulating that for the first time, certain documents including wills, powers of attorney, appointments of enduring guardian, affidavits and statutory declarations, can be witnessed by audio visual link, such as a Zoom conference. 

The legislation involved amendments to the Electronic Transactions Act 2000 and changed the requirements for validly signing a document under:

  1. The Succession Act (ie a will);
  2. The Powers of Attorney Act 2003 (ie a power of attorney);
  3. The Guardianship Act 1987 (ie an appointment of enduring guardian); or
  4. The Oaths Act 1900 (ie an affidavit or statutory declaration).

Under the changes, a solicitor can witness documents being signed by way of audio-visual link such as a Zoom conference. The solicitor can then sign a copy of the document provided he or she is satisfied that it is the same document and he or she inserts a statement that it has been signed in accordance with the new regulation.

The new legislation was originally intended to be temporary, however in November 2021 it was announced that the changes would be retained permanently.

Accordingly, there is now a simple method to enable a will (or a power of attorney, guardianship or affidavit) to be validly signed and witnessed, even though the witnesses may not be physically present. This will provide significant peace of mind for Australians, that their estate planning affairs have been discussed with a lawyer, and all documents validly signed.

For more information, please contact Somerville Legal’s Stephen Lynch, Accredited Specialist in Wills & Estates, on 9923 2321 (North Sydney office) or 49278077 (Newcastle office).

 

 

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