Issue 01 | Article 05

Where there's a will...

The Dawn of Digital Signing & Witnessing

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Published 01/12/2020

Published 01/12/2020

COVID-19 has sent more Australians seeking peace of mind and order to their affairs. Since March 2020, search enquiries about updating wills spiked more than 20%. New laws passed allowing lawyers to settle their clients’ needs electronically. Supply and demand are starting to really hum. So, what does this mean for you? 

It means now is the time to meet this new demand, digitally.


Queries For Your Kind

Through the dust of global change, the demand for specialist lawyers in wills and estate is finding new light. As Australians turn their minds to who they want making decisions and how they’ll provide for their loved ones, specialists are uniquely positioned to guide this process with empathy and market insight. Australian Unity Trustees National Manager of Estate Planning Anna Hacker reports a spike of more than 20%


Working from Home: Sign of the Times

With all non-essential workers in Australia needing to work from home for so many months, wills and estate lawyers were unsure how to communicate with clients to get important documents signed and witnessed. 

Was it even possible to witness someone’s signature while maintaining a socially responsible distance? 

It became clear that the legal profession, like most other professions, needed to adapt and find new ways to support clients from afar.


Zooming to a Solve

In Queensland, this has meant passing new state laws allowing wills to be witnessed and signed electronically. 

New South Wales is taking a similar approach, having added a provision to the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017. Now, we can use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and even WhatsApp for virtual witnessing of legal documents while the pandemic continues.

Firms like Maurice Blackburn and Bennett & Philip have welcomed these changes, sparking lawyers from other states to urge their governments to adopt the same flexible approach. 

“The rigour around the signing of wills reflects the importance of them,” says Andrew Simpson, Head of Wills and Estates for Maurice Blackburn in Lawyers Weekly. 

“But we welcome the Queensland government’s introduction of some short-term solutions.”


Where Next?

So, does this mean we can expect to see smart phones and video conferencing platforms becoming the new norm for legal document witnessing? It’s unclear whether permissions will be granted for other legal documents to be witnessed this way. But we do expect to see provisions made for wills and estates roll out across Australia. 

With this area of the law rapidly evolving, now’s the time to refresh your knowledge of wills and estates, with a range of live and on-demand CPD courses from the College of Law.




Resource: Emerging technology in wills and estates: See Willbits
A digital platform that encrypts and securely stores wills, powers of attorney, and advance care directives.