Signing a legal document is one of those life admin jobs almost everyone has to do from time to time.
But few realise that falling foul of some strict – and sometimes quirky - rules when putting pen to paper could mean you have to start from scratch.
And signing Wills or Power of Attorney papers are by far the most common documents where people unwittingly make slip-ups, giving them a headache when they least need it.
Of the Wills we send for clients to sign, nearly 25 per cent will come back with errors. But signing Power of Attorney papers proves even more problematic – with only three per cent returning error-free.
So here are the top five errors – and how to avoid them.
It seems like a tiny detail but it is crucial. When signing and witnessing a legal document, everyone must use the same pen.
It doesn’t matter if everything else is perfect, different colours, or a fountain pen with ballpoint means the document is invalid. Both you and your witnesses must use the same pen throughout the entirety of the document – including when you are dating it.
This is by far the most common mistake we encounter.
Never remove the staples already in a document. Reattaching pages and leaving multiple holes in the document means you will need to start over with a new document.
This can be extremely frustrating when you have gone to the trouble of getting qualified witnesses in the same place at the same time – and you now need to bring them back again.
If assembling a will at home, staples must go in the top left corner. If you need to un-staple and re-staple – you need to reprint and start again.
The strict rules also mean you cannot attach anything to a will.. No paper clips, bull-clips or anything which marks the paper.
You need to make sure your two witnesses to the Will are with you when you sign your Will, and they see you physically sign in front of their eyes. This is because a witness can be called to court to give evidence to say they physically saw you sign the document.
Powers of Attorney work a bit different. You will need your two witnesses - one of them being an authorised person) to see you sign your Power of Attorney. However, you do not need your appointed attorney/s to be present when you sign. Your appointed attorneys can sign their acceptance of the role at a later date with their own independent witness, and this witness does not need to be the same witness you have used.
All witnesses must be independent to you – meaning they cannot be family members, partners or anyone mentioned in the documents.
Rules on who can witness documents vary from state to state and document to document.
Take some time to read the instructions, it can help you avoid frustrating errors later. We have a full list of qualified witnesses available on our website here.
We also regularly find that witness details – their full name and address – or their signatures, have been missed from a key section or page.
It is crucial you ensure all the correct fields on each page have been completed before you leave your meeting.
Too often something as easy as filling out the full date can slip through the net. Check and double check all the date fields are filled in, and in the correct format.
These are all easy mistakes to make, especially if you are in the middle of a traumatic life event. It can feel overwhelming if you’re not used to signing documents or dealing with a lot of paperwork in your everyday life.
But, if you take your time, read the instructions and try to avoid these five most common mistakes, this process should go as smoothly as possible.
Our experienced wills and estates lawyers are here to help - everything from getting your own affairs in order, to administering a Will when you're an executor, to challenging a Will.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Australian Capital Territory. If you need a lawyer in Canberra or elsewhere in Australian Capital Territory, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.