Thinking | 11 May 2020

COVID-19: Supreme Court direction to approve QLD Wills witnessed virtually by a lawyer

By James Whiley 

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland has issued Practice Direction No. 10 of 2020 which allows the registrar of the Court to accept as a formal Will, what would ordinarily amount to an informal Will if it satisfies certain conditions:

  • when the execution of the Will is witnessed by a lawyer using an audio visual link (by Zoom for example);
  • when the Will was executed between 1 March 2020 and 30 September 2020;
  • where there is clear evidence showing that the testator intended the document to take immediate effect as their Will; and
  • where the reason why the testator was unable to execute the Will in the physical presence of two witnesses was because of either government enforced or recommended, or self-imposed, isolation or quarantine arising from the COVID 19 pandemic.

The Practice Direction only applies between 1 March 2020 and 30 September 2020, unless extended by the Supreme Court.

We understand that many clients are anxious about their estate planning during this difficult time, but have been reluctant to meet in person to execute their documents. Our Private Clients team outlines what you need to do to ensure remotely executed Wills are valid and legally enforceable.

If clients have access to a computer, smartphone or tablet, they will be able to schedule a video meeting with our team to sign their documents. The steps to follow to sign in this manner are:

  • Audio visual link established (by Zoom for example);
  • Client displays to witness the document to sign and confirms they are satisfied with the document and have not made any amendments to it;
  • Client signs and dates the document and witness observes the signature/s and date;
  • Client mails (either immediately or when able) the original document to us which we then store in our safe.
  • Best practice under this Practice Direction is that Wills still require two independent witnesses, so if a client cannot source an independent second witness to attend via audio visual link, a second person from our team will also be available via audio visual link.

Following these steps will ensure that clients’ Wills are valid and legally enforceable, even though they have been witnessed via audio visual link.

The Queensland parliament has also passed a bill which allows regulations to be made for the remote signing of documents such as Enduring powers of attorney but the relevant regulations have not yet been proclaimed and no indication has been given as to a timeframe for the making of these regulations.

Please contact our Private Clients team to discuss this further.

Contact

James Whiley

James specialises in estate and succession planning for high-net-worth clients in Australia, the UK, Europe, the US and Asia.

Emma Woolley

Emma has extensive experience advising clients in estate planning/administration, succession, trust structures and disputes.

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