On Wednesday 22 April 2020, the New South Wales and Queensland state governments introduced new laws that allow for video conferencing technologies (such as Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp etc) to be used in witnessing important legal documents, and in particular Wills. Safewill explores how these new laws provide clarity and safety when it comes to executing a Will, given social distancing restrictions, and how they will work in practice.
What does this mean?
Prior to these announcements, the only way to validly execute a Will was to have two independent witnesses physically present with the Will maker, to watch them sign their Will. This became difficult and dangerous to achieve given new social distancing rules, which prohibit socialising with more than one person outside of your immediate family or residence. This has caused considerable confusion for many Australians who are unsure of how to validly sign their Wills while adhering to social distancing rules, and particularly given the spike in the creation of wills since the crisis began.
How do these new regulations work?
Both the New South Wales and Queensland regulations allow for documents to be witnessed via video technology, rather than requiring witnesses to be physically present with the Will maker while they sign their Will. Witnesses still need to actually watch the Will maker sign the document, but this can take place over a video call. After they have witnessed the signature, there are two options for how a witness can then sign the document. Either a witness can sign:
- A hard copy of the executed Will that is scanned and sent to the witness; or
- An identical counterpart of the document that the Will maker has signed. In this circumstance, the Will maker will then need to collate and hold all signed counterpart copies of the Will.
This allows for witnesses and Will makers to sign the same document from the safety of separate locations.
Is this a good thing?
The measures taken by these two state governments are progressive, particularly given that the protocols for witnessing Wills have been consistent for many years. This follows similar announcements in other jurisdictions such as New Zealand.
The announcements by New South Wales & Queensland provide clarity on how people can continue to execute Wills in a valid and effective way, while adhering to social distancing requirements. The regime also applies to additional legal documents such as powers of attorney and statutory declarations.
If you have any questions about these announcements, don't hesitate to get in touch with the Safewill team.
For further information on the NSW regulations, click here
For further information on the QLD regulations, click here