Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more Australians are creating and amending wills – but with social-distancing rules in place, this is proving difficult. While specific rules vary by state and territory, typically two witnesses need to be physically present when signing a will, and the same is true when appointing someone with powers of attorney.
With stay-at-home directions given and gatherings of more than a few people discouraged, it can be difficult to legally proceed with creating a will during this time. Luckily, some governments have recognised this.
Currently, electronic signatures of wills are not valid in the majority of states and territories. This is because of the strict witnessing rules put in place by governments to ensure the creator is in the right state of mind and not under any duress or manipulation while signing.
Additionally, many states, like Tasmania, require the witnesses to not be beneficiaries of the will, Mirage News reported. This proves to be difficult, especially for seniors trying to comply with social distancing to preserve their health.
Governments have acknowledged this demand for wills during the pandemic and are taking emergency legislation to help creators. In Queensland, Brisbane Times reported on a Parliament meeting that would debate actions that would allow wills to be signed electronically and be considered valid.
Ideally, other regions will begin adopting similar legislation that will allow these important documents to be witnessed and signed electronically or over video conferencing to help creator's ensure their final wishes are valid.
Before creating a will, it's important to understand your state's laws to ensure that the document you are creating is legitimate in the eyes of the court. Since video calls and electronic signatures are still not the norm, some lawyers are getting creative with how they witness signing papers.
The Age reported that some professionals have met their clients at their cars and offered drive-by document signing and witnessing. This way, creators can still comply with a pen-to-paper signature and have an official witness all from the comfort and safety of their vehicle. It's also possible to have neighbours witness the signature from over their fence, across the yard or through the window.
With these confusing times, law professionals are still finding ways to ensure their clients are creating valid documents to secure their final wishes.
If you have questions about creating or contesting a valid will, contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Will Dispute Lawyers today.