The global COVID-19 crisis has prompted lawyers, powers of attorney, executors of wills and government officials to remodel their approach to estate planning documentation.
The primary issue at stake is how previous legal strictures can be adapted to conform with newly released Australian guidelines that mandate social distancing (as well as the closures of some business operations deemed inessential).
Various states have recently switched to remote witnessing of will signature via an audio/visual link. Queensland is the latest example, as the Queensland Parliament has now implemented new Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response – Wills and Enduring Documents) Regulation standards, which are in effect through the end of 2020.
Following in the footsteps of New South Wales and Victoria, Queensland's official adoption of more modern enduring-documents regulation enables the two witnesses required at the signing of a will to electronically sign in with an audio visual link. A special witness – lawyer, notary public, public trustee, etc. – should also be digitally present.
Witnesses can then sign scanned copies of relevant documents, and special witnesses must certify that all appropriate guidelines were followed.
It's also important to keep in mind that much of the current or pending regulatory changes around will-signing are temporary, and could easily revert back to previous jurisprudence as officials deem appropriate. This could take place in 2021 or at some later date once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted en masse and daily life returns to a greater sense of normalcy, including in the legal sphere.
The new signature convention allows more flexibility for relevant stakeholders including all witnesses and signers. It also provides a roadmap for future legislation aimed at modernising the justice system as it pertains to estate planning, which could support more streamlined documentation.
On the other hand, all parties must be mindful of existing regulations, like freedom from undue external influence or potential fraudulent activity after the will-maker has deceased.
Individuals concerned about the validity of their wills and other key legal documents should work with experienced estate planning lawyers to ensure their legacy is protected. With legislation being implemented state by state, the COVID-19 pandemic should not interfere with or undermine the credibility of the will-making process, nor should it result in new forms of nefarious activity like electronic forgery.
The experts and specialists at Gerard Malouf & Partners are here to help. Contact us today for assistance navigating new changes to the will-signing process.