Wills, Estates & Succession Planning 22 March 2021

Electronic signing here to stay – New Victorian legislation permanently enables remote execution of certain legal documents

The Victorian Parliament has passed new legislation to make permanent many of the temporary measures introduced last year as a result of COVID-19, to allow the remote execution of certain legal documents including deeds, wills, powers of attorney, affidavits and statutory declarations.

These new laws, contained in The Justice Legislation Amendment (System Enhancements and Other Matters) Bill 2021, enable the legal industry to continue to operate safely and effectively throughout the pandemic and modernise previous signing protocols.

In the succession space, these measures have ensured that our clients can continue to effectively and easily access estate planning services, by engaging with their lawyers electronically, including by signing their Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney with an electronic signing program such as DocuSign, while witnesses watch on through an audio visual platform such as Zoom.

After being one of the last Australian states to introduce temporary regulations in response to the COVID-19 restrictions (which were due to expire in April 2021), the Victorian Government, in consultation with the Law Institute of Victoria, the Courts and other key stakeholders, has taken a significant step in modernising State legislation, which is welcomed by Coulter Legal.

For our clients, particularly during periods of heavy state-wide restrictions, these measures have enabled us to progress their matters without delay and often, while our client remains in the comfort of their own home.

Although the permanent laws resemble the emergency regulations they will supersede, the new legislation improves upon the emergency measures by imposing stricter requirements to safeguard against misuse. Most notably, under the new legislation, the remote execution of a Will or Power of Attorney requires that one of the witnesses is a “special witness”.

The new legislation defines a special witness as:

  1. An Australian legal practitioner;
  2. A justice of the peace; or
  3. A person who is a member of a prescribed class of person.

For the most part, the new legislation comes into operation on 26 April 2021, being the date that the temporary regulations are due to end. Of course, Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney can continue to be prepared and signed in person using the traditional process, however it is great to be able to offer our clients a modern solution where the need arises.

At Coulter Legal, we look forward to continuing to offer convenient and modern legal solutions to our clients on a permanent basis.

Stefan Manche.
Stefan Manche Principal Lawyer Head of Wills, Estates & Succession Planning View profile
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