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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.

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.

Top five errors and how to avoid them in legal documents

1. Signing with different pens

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.

2. Multiple staple holes

Never remove the staples already in a legal 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.

3. If your witnesses are not present at the same time while signing a Will

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 that legal 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.

4. Wrong witnesses signing or details missing from the legal contract

All witnesses must be independent to you – meaning they cannot be family members, partners or anyone mentioned in the legal documents.

Rules on who can witness a signature on legal documents, such as a Will or powers of attorney, 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.

5. Date fields not completed in the contract

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 when signing a legal document, especially if you are in the middle of a traumatic life event. It can feel overwhelming if you’re not used to signing legal 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 Will dispute lawyers are here to help. 

Our team of Will dispute lawyers are here to guide you through every step of challenging a Will. We have a long history of helping people contest a Will and settling Will disputes in Australia. 

It doesn't cost you anything to know where you stand 

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