deed

Properly executing documents

When it comes to properly executing documents, depending on the type of document and the parties executing it, there are different requirements for it to be valid.

The manner of execution depends on matters such as:

  • Party – whether a party is an individual, a partnership, the Government, an association or a corporation (and whether those signatories are parties in their own right or as a trustee of a trust or a superannuation fund;
  • Document – whether it is a Deed or just a contract or an Agreement; and
  • Physical/Electronic – whether it to be signed online or in person, or a combination of both.

PARTY TYPE

Individuals

An individual may execute a document by simply signing it with their signature witnessed by a person who is not party to it.

Partnerships

For a partnership to be bound by a document or a deed, either all partners to the partnership or an individual authorised by all the partners (whether or not the individual is a partner) should execute the document or deed.

Often, documents will be executed by a partner on behalf of a partnership. This authority may be set out in the partnership deed or a power of attorney. If you cannot obtain a copy of the relevant authority, you should consider obtaining a warranty from the individual in the relevant execution clause that they have authority of the partnership to so execute the document.

Companies

Section 127 of the Corporations Act (Corporations Act) sets out the ways in which a document may be executed by a company. If a company executes a document in this way, anyone will be able to rely on the protection in other sections of the Corporations Act for dealings in relation to that company. A company may execute documents under seal or choose not to have a company seal and even if the company has a seal, it need not apply it.

A company may execute a document with or without a seal if the document is signed by:

  • 2 directors; or
  • a director and a company secretary o; or
  • a sole director (there is no requirement for a private company to have a secretary).

Companies can also sign via an agent under s.126 of the Corporations Act.

Associations

Usually an incorporated association signs documents by having 2 committee members sign it but often the Rules of Association need to be examined to confirm this.

An unincorporated association is not a legal entity and so cannot contract in its own right so be careful entering into any contract of value with them.

Trusts

A trust is not a legal entity and as such, it cannot contract in its own right so all acts relating to a trust must be undertaken by its trustee or trustees.

The type execution clause that should be used will depend on what type of entity the trustee is (eg a company  or one or more individuals) execution clause should be used if the trustee is a company).

Although a trust is not a legal entity, it may be a tax entity so may have its own ABN. You should therefore confirm that the ABN being used is the ABN of the trust and not the ABN of the trustee. An ABN is a great identifier.

If you are unable to confirm that the trustee has the power to enter into the arrangement (which can usually be ascertained by examining the trust deed), you should consider obtaining a representation and warranty from the trustee that it has the power to execute the document or deed on behalf of the trust.

DOCUMENT TYPE

There are various reasons for choosing between the different types of document. such as greater (often double the length) limitation periods for enforcing obligations in deeds compared to just agreements. Sometimes legislation requires transactions by deed, but oftentimes deeds are used as they are the most solemn act a person can perform in relation to an item of property or any other right.

Agreement / Contract

Generally, a contract is in place and is valid if the following conditions are met:

  1. Intention to create legal relations
  2. An offer
  3. Consideration (price) being agreed
  4. Acceptance

A written signature is not necessarily required for a valid contract to exist. The terms of the agreement also can be agreed verbally.

Contracts can be signed electronically (even with the click of a mouse) since the Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (NSW) (ET Act) and corresponding legislation in Australia’s other States and Territories.

Deed

Traditionally, to be a valid, as a deed the document had to be “signed, sealed and delivered” and thus it had to be:

  • written (on paper or parchment);
  • signed and the parties’ seal/s applied); and
  • delivered (physically to the other party),

however now, there is no requirement for a seal (where it is described as a deed or expresses that is is ‘sealed’ and it is witnessed appropriately), the parties are presumed to have ‘delivered‘ it on execution and the parchment requirement has also been dispensed with given the ET Act, amendments to the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW) and, in relation to companies, the passing of the  Corporations Amendment (Meetings and Documents) Act 2022, which from 01 April 2022 (after the temporary COVID-19 pandemic measures ended on 30 March 2022), amended the Corporations Act to permanently allow things such as:

  • director or member meetings virtually, such as through Zoom or Teams meetings etc (regardless of the requirements under their constitutions); and
  • documents, including deeds, to be executed electronically.

As Deeds do not require consideration like a contract, often it can be sensible to include a nominal item (such as $10) as consideration just in case the document isn’t valid as a deed – as it can still be relied on as a contract, possibly even if not signed by the other party but part performed.

WET INK OR ELECTRONIC?

Documents now can either be signed:

  • in physical form with ‘wet ink‘ signatures;
  • electronically; or
  • a combination of both.

Either way, the method of signing must clearly and reliably identify the part and indicates the party’s intention in respect of the information recorded in the document.

Obviously, special care needs to be taken with parties that are not Australian residents and to consider the governing law and jurisdiction of the arrangement.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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What is the difference between Deeds and Agreements?

You may have noticed that some documents you have signed have been expressed to be a Deed and others as an Agreement (or a Contract). You may wonder – is there a difference?

At law, the essential ingredients to have a binding agreement are:

  • Offer – what is being sold and purchased
  • Consideration – the ‘price’ paid
  • Intention to be legally bound by the arrangement
  • Acceptance of the Offer

The main difference between a deed and an agreement is that there is no requirement for consideration for the deed to be binding. The fact that something is executed as a “deed” means that it is a most solemn promise that you mean and intend to do what you promise to do.

Obviously, contracts can be written or verbal, but a deed must be in writing.

Often the choice of executing as a deed is due to there possibly being no actual consideration passing or a difficulty in quantifying it (such as the mutual exchange of promises do do or refrain from doing something, rather than a payment of money).

Common examples of deeds include:

  • Deed of Guarantee
  • Deeds of Release & Indemnity
  • Deeds of Settlement
  • Trust Deeds or Superannuation Deeds
  • Confidentiality Deeds

Some documents must be in the form of or to take effect as a Deed to be valid, such as for the transfer of real property in NSW.

Signed, Sealed & Delivered

Traditionally, to be a valid deed, the arrangement had to be “signed, sealed and delivered” and therefore:

  • on paper or parchment,
  • signed by the parties and their seal applied; and
  • it had to be physically delivered to the other party,

however now, there is no requirement for a seal and the parties are presumed to have ‘delivered‘ it on execution.

It must also still be witnessed for individuals signing however in modern times, the law in NSW (since 22 November 2018) allows for electronic execution. Further, the Regulations made during the COVID-19 Pandemic were updated to allow remote witnessing by audio-visual link* (although we always prefer “wet ink” signatures as the lowest risk option for execution of deeds).

Subject to the terms of the document (which may allow or prohibit it, and whether or not execution in counterparts is provided for), a deed may be binding on a party, irrespective of whether the other party or parties to the deed have also signed it.

As with all documents, the correct attestation clauseshould be used depending on whether the party is an individual, company, trustee or a partnership.

As Deeds do not require consideration, often it can be sensible to include a nominal item as consideration just in case the document isn’t valid as a deed – as it can then be relied on as a contract.

Also, limitation periods for enforcing obligations in deeds are longer than for agreements.

*Note – changes to company signing arrangements took effect on 01 April 2022 with the Corporations Amendment (Meetings and Documents) Act 2022.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Limitation periods

There are limitation periods that apply to various legal cause of action.

The effect of a limitation period in relation to a legal cause of action is that claims become time-barred, and therefore unable to proceed, where the relevant period of time has elapsed without a claim being brought through the relevant Court or Tribunal.

There is no “Statute of Limitations” in New South Wales as such but there is the Limitations Act 1969 (NSW) which has a default limitation period regime where there is no specific timeframe set out in the relevant Act (such as the Succession Act 2006 (NSW), Home Building Act 1989 (NSW), Defamation Act 2005 (NSW), Fair Trading Act 1987 (NSW), Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) etc).

The Limitation Act (or the relevant specific Act) describe the types of legal actions and the limitation periods that apply to them such as the following civil claims:

Cause of action Limitation period
Contractual claims 6 years from the date on which the cause of action accrued
Negligence 6 years from the date on which the cause of action accrued
Family provision 12 months from date of death
Cause of action founded on a deed 12 years from the date on which the cause of action first accrues
Enforcing a judgment 12 years from the date on which the judgment first becomes enforceable
Defamation 1 year from date of publication
Unfair dismissal 21 days from the date of dismissal of employee

NOTE – this is a general guide only – you should get specific advice as to the limitation periods that apply to your specific circumstances

Different limitation periods apply to causes of action in different jurisdictions, such as the Commonwealth or those of each State and Territory. Limitation periods can also apply to some criminal matters but serious crimes generally do not have such limitation periods.

In some very limited circumstances, the relevant limitation period may be able to be extended.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information on litigation and dispute resolution, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Coronavirus: Remote witnessing of legal documents

On 22 April 2020, the Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 (NSW) came into effect.

The effect of the Regulation is that the signing of legal documents in New South Wales such as Wills, Powers of Attorney, Deeds, Agreements, Appointments of Enduring Guardians, Affidavits and Statutory Declarations can be witnessed by audio visual link, rather than having to be physically present, as is normally the case – that is the law (during the COVID-19 pandemic) now allows the remote witnessing of legal documents.

Some documents have other additional requirements, like Wills which require 2 witnesses, not just one, as is provided for in s.6(1)(c) of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW).

Audio visual link includes Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, HouseParty, FaceTime and the like.

The witness must sign the document either:

  1. by signing a counterpart of the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document; or
  2. if the signatory scans and sends a copy of the signed document electronically, the witness may countersign the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document.

The witness must endorse the document, or the copy of the document, with a statement that specifies the method used to witness the signing and that the document was witnessed in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017.

All copies of the document should be stored together so they can be read as the one document.

The Regulations do not change what documents may or may not be executed electronically in NSW – only how documents may be witnessed and attested.  The Regulations also do not affect the laws or requirements of any other jurisdiction, including the Commonwealth (such as company execution of documents under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

Under the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW), the Regulation were to operate for a maximum period of 6 months from 22 April 2020 however, on 18 September 2020, the Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (COVID-19) Regulation 2020 came into effect such that, among other things, the operation of the electronic witnessing regulations was extended to 31 December 2021.

Similar regulations are in place in the other States and Territories, such as Queensland’s Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response – Wills and Enduring Documents) Regulation 2020 (Qld).

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus, if you had previously held off arranging documents such as for your estate planning due to not wanting to attend our office physically due to social distancing concerns or if you need to discuss how to best to arrange signing of documents under the Regulation, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Contract to Make Mutual Wills

A Contract to make Mutual Wills is an agreement between 2 parties (usually a husband and wife, but can be a same sex couple or a de facto couple) to make Wills in an agreed form.

Usually, they provide that the parties may not act such that those Wills don’t get given effect to, such as:

  • revoking or destroying the Will;
  • making a new Will; or
  • disposing of assets so that they do not pass to the agreed beneficiaries

without the consent of the other party (or the executors/administrators of their estate  if they have died).

Often they are put in place when the parties have had a prior marriage or marriages and there are children of the prior relationship/s and the current relationship.

The benefit of such contracts (or deeds as they often are) is that the parties can take some comfort in providing for the other during their lifetimes (for example by gifting their entire estates to each other in their Wills), but with the overall distribution of their combined estates (on the death of the last of them) passing as agreed in the Wills made pursuant to the document.

Where a party breaches the agreement (such as by changing their Will), that party (or their estate) may be sued by the other party (or their executors/administrators if they have died) for breach of contract.

Whilst mutual Wills can be an effective estate planning tool, they are not for everyone and they can cause unintended complications due to their inflexibility, particularly around subsequent marriages, children and unexpected events following the death of a party.

As with most things, there are also other options or alternatives to consider to get a similar result, including creating life interests in real estate or establishing trusts.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your estate planning needs.

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Trusts – who is who in the zoo?

TYPES OF TRUSTS

There are many different types of trust including those created by wills (testamentary trusts) or by the operation of law, but for the purpose of this article, we are referring to the usual types of trust structures that accountants and lawyers prepare for their clients to operate businesses, own assets and the like, including:
  • unit trusts,
  • family/discretionary trusts,
  • hybrid trusts.

Trusts are often used to ensure that the person or entity with the legal ownership of assets is different to the persons or entities that enjoy the benefit of those assets.

WHAT IS A TRUST DEED?

The Trust Deed is a document that governs the terms of the Trust and sets out the rights and obligations of the Trustee, the Appointor and the Beneficiaries.

SETTLOR

The Settlor is often a person who has started the Trust (often an accountant or lawyer that obtained or drafted the Trust Deed at the request of a client) by paying a nominal amount such as $10 to the Trustee. This amount is known as the ‘settled sum’. The Trust Fund is then added to over time.

WHAT DOES THE TRUSTEE DO?

The Trustee of a Trust is responsible for administering the Trust and managing its assets for the benefit of the Beneficiaries. The Trust can only operate through its Trustee (one or more people or a company)

There are many duties that affect how Trustees can fulfill their role. Many of them are set out in the Trust Deed but there are also legislative provisions that apply, such as those set out in the Trustee Act.
Some of the duties include keeping accurate records, acting in a prudent manner as regards decisions, not mixing Trust assets with the Trustee’s own assets (which is why a often a company is set up to be the Trustee and do nothing but be the Trustee) and not using trust assets for the trustee’s own benefit. This is often one of the reasons a special purpose trustee company is used.

WHAT IS AN APPOINTOR?

The Appointor is the person with the power under the Trust Deed to remove a Trustee and appoint a new Trustee. They, therefore, ultimately control the trust.

Usually, changing the Trustee can be effected at any time by the Appointor executing a deed to remove and appoint a Trustee. Often the Trust Deed allows for the change to be effected by a person’s Will.

It is common for the Appointor of a discretionary family trust to be a parent or sibling and is often 2 people (or in the alternative, there is a Primary or First Appointor and a Second or Alternate Appointor that can act if something prevents the First Appointor from acting).

WHO ARE THE BENEFICIARIES?

In the types of Trusts we are talking about in this article, the Beneficiaries are those that are ultimately entitled to the benefit of the Trust. For Family/Discretionary Trusts, the Beneficiaries are not stated specifically but rather, for asset protection reasons, they are expressed as a class of potential beneficiaries that the Trustee can choose from (but is not obliged to – the protection arises as there is no specific share they are entitled to – it is in the Trustee’s discretion).

Often, the class of potential beneficiaries is very wide and includes children, grandchildren, grandparents, siblings and other trusts and companies which those people may have an interest in.

In the case of a Unit Trust, the Beneficiaries are the unitholders -the unitholders are entitled to a defined/fixed share of the Trust’s assets and income.

For asset protection and income splitting/tax minimisation reasons, often the units in a Unit Trust are owned by a Discretionary Trust.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Trust law is an extremely complex area and it is important to ensure that you understand your rights and responsibilities in relation to any Trust you are involved with or may have an interest in.

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to trusts, structuring or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

Trust & Superannuation Deed Amendments

Do you or any of your clients have a family/discretionary trust, unit trust or self-managed superannuation fund and want to change the deed?

Often the change is to remove and replace a trustee with a new one. In other situations, it may be changing a class of potential beneficiaries, dealing with the power of appointment, bringing forward the termination date or changing the trustee’s rights and/or obligations.

Care needs to be taken not to vest the trust or to cause a resettlement, which can give rise to unintended consequences, including:

  • CGT and
  • stamp duty.

There is no real “one size fits all” solution. Deeds can vary greatly as to the process and requirements.

McKillop Legal can assist in reviewing the relevant Deed/Rules and drafting an appropriate document to give effect to the required change.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to trusts, estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.