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Wills and powers of attorney can be signed and witnessed remotely

Wills and powers of attorney can be signed and witnessed remotely

By LIV Special Counsel Ethics Michael Dolan

COVID-19 Wills 

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New Victorian government COVID-19 emergency regulations for the remote signing and witnessing of several important types of legal documents became law on 12 May 2020 and will overcome many of the problems caused by the current State of Emergency’s Stay at Home Directions.

The LIV has been in ongoing consultation with the Attorney General and the government to ensure that legal services are treated as essential to ensure that the community can access them as and when needed with as little disruption as possible. 

The emergency regulations are temporary and will sunset after 6 months.  They allow many important legal documents such as wills and powers of attorney to be signed electronically and witnessed by audio-visual means. 

A person can sign the document remotely using an electronic signature and witnesses to the signing of a will or power of attorney don’t have to be in the physical presence of the person signing – they can witness by audio-video conference provided that the detailed procedures set out in the regulations are strictly observed.

At this time it is critical that lawyers fulfill their ethical duties to act in their clients’ best interests and ensure that power of attorney and will signing is within the clients’ capacity and voluntary and does not lead to an increase in opportunities for elder abuse.

In response to the Emergency Regulations, the LIV has recommended that at least one of the witnesses to the remote signing of a will or power of attorney be a lawyer, Justice of the Peace or a public notary to significantly reduce the risk of elder abuse.

Although social distancing requirements have just been eased, the emergency regulations will provide options for electronic signing and witnessing of some legal documents over the next six months.

The LIV notes that the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 does not apply to the appointment of a medical treatment decision-maker or the making of an advance care directive. There is no relaxation of the strict legal signing requirements for these documents.

The LIV supports similar changes to the Act for these important documents.

The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) (Electronic Signing and Witnessing) Regulations 2020 have been welcomed by the LIV.

The LIV is closely following the COVID-19 pandemic government directives and remains “open for business” to support members through these challenging times:

  • We have created s dedicated COVID-19 Information Hub to be the one-stop source of information for the legal profession
  • Relevant staff and teams are working remotely to deliver member services
  • CPD and education programs have been moved to online formats
  • LIV Practice Contingency Planning resources and Practice Notes on witnessing and signing documents are available HERE.

We remain available to help with any queries you may have. If you or your staff have any queries regarding any the above please do not hesitate to contact the LIV’s Practice Support line on 9706 9378


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