Temporary Changes to Witnessing of Legal Documents Due to COVID-19

The witnessing of Estate Planning documents, affidavits and statutory declarations have always been subject to strict legislative requirements which must be met in order for the documents to be valid.

In a world changed by COVID-19 however, such witnessing requirements have become onerous and difficult to meet.

New Legislation and Effect

To address the obstacles presented by the pandemic, Victoria has now passed emergency legislation which establishes temporary regulations that modify the existing rules around the execution and witnessing of certain documents including Wills, Powers of Attorney (POA’s), affidavits and statutory declarations for the next 6 months.

Prior to the introduction of the temporary emergency measures, it was a legal requirement that Wills and POA’s had to be witnessed in the presence of two independent adults.

As a result of the global pandemic, strict lockdown rules and social distancing, the new temporary regulations make it acceptable for certain legal documents (such as Wills, POA’s affidavits, and statutory declarations) to be witnessed via audio visual links on programs including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing applications.  There is also a provision for the electronic signing of Wills, POA’s, affidavits and statutory declarations.  Traditionally, these documents cannot be electronically signed.

There are specific statements that must be included each time an electronic signature is made, or a document is witnessed by audio visual link to comply with these new regulations and in order for the document to be effective.

Appointment of Medical Treatment Decision Maker

The formal requirements for valid execution and witnessing of an Appointment of Medical Treatment Decision Maker (AMTDM) under the Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2016 (Vic) have not been modified. Therefore, the AMTDM will still need to be executed and witnessed in the physical presence of two individual adults.

These temporary Regulations will remain in place until 24 October, 2020.

It is prudent to ensure your Estate Planning documents are up to date during these uncertain times.  Morrows Legal can assist in ensuring your documents are signed and witnessed in a safe and legally binding manner.

If you wish to discuss your Estate Planning or have questions about the impact of these temporary changes, please contact Rabia Javed-May or Noor Othman at Morrows Legal on 03 9690 5700 or via email on rjaved-may@morrows.com.au or noorthman@morrows.com.au.

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