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Contract Law – Do I Need A Witness?

In this day and age we are regularly required to sign documents. We are often asked whether signatures require a witness in order to be valid. The short answer is that most documents and contracts do not require a witness for them to be valid. However, some documents such as wills and documents that need to be registered at the titles office (normally relating to the sale or leasing of land) have specific legal requirements in relation to witnessing.

In addition, banks and other large institutions normally have their own policies about signing requirements. Accordingly, if you are unsure as to whether the document that you have been asked to sign requires a witness, you should contact the institution, branch or registry where your document will be used to determine what they require.

If the document that you are signing is a will or titles office document then you should contact your lawyer if you are unsure of the witnessing requirements.

Who can be a witness to a document?

The other common question that we are asked is can a family member witness your signature? Generally the person you choose to witness a document should have no financial or other interest in the document that is being signed. An independent (neutral third party) adult witness is the best person to witness your signature. An independent party is someone not related to any party to the transaction and who does not benefit from the contract.

Ideally a witness will observe the relevant party or parties signing the document and then the witness will sign the document as proof that they witnessed the parties signing. The witness is generally not required to know or understand the contents of the document.

It is also important that documents such as wills have clearly regulated requirements regarding the number of witnesses and the nature of the relationship between the parties and the witness. Most States in Australia will not allow witnesses that are mentioned in your will, either as beneficiary or executors. The witnesses must be of legal age (18) and they must be mentally capable of managing their property and making their own decisions.

If you are unsure of witnessing requirements you should contact your lawyer to point you in the right direction.

If you have any queries or require any assistance in relation to contract law, please contact us on 03 6332 9353 or use our Contact Us form that can be found at http://www.cormistonlegal.com.au/contact 

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