document

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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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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What is a Granny Flat Right?

WHAT IS A GRANNY FLAT RIGHT?

You can have a granny flat interest in any kind of dwelling, not just those typically referred to as a “granny flat” (a separate, self-contained building or living area attached to a home or property). It must be a private residence and your principal home.

You cannot however, have a granny flat interest in a property in which you have legal ownership (or your partner or a company or trust that you control).

A “granny flat right” or a “granny flat interest” is where you pay for the right to live in a specific home for life.

Granny flat interests are usually family arrangements providing company and support for older people, but they don’t have to be for social security purposes. They are created when you exchange assets, money or both for a right to live in someone else’s property for life. For example, you could:

  • transfer ownership of your home but keep a lifelong right to live there or in another private property; or
  • transfer assets, including money, in return for a lifelong right to live in a home.

The granny flat right only lasts for your lifetime. It’s not part of your estate when you die, so you can’t give it in your will as part of your estate plan.

DOCUMENTATION

A granny flat right does not have to be in writing however, given that amounts that can be paid for a granny flat right can be significant and they are usually funded by significant events like the sale of a family home, it can be a very good idea to get a lawyer to draw up a legal document so you have proof of what you and the owner have agreed to in relation to the granny flat arrangement.

A Granny Flat Right Agreement can include many things in addition to the amount paid, such as what happens if the property is sold, whether the right can be transferred to another property or what you may get back if you give up your granny flat right, as well as what regular contributions for rent, maintenance or outgoings (insurance, rates, phone etc) may have been agreed.

GIFTING RULES & THE REASONABLENESS TEST

In Centrelink/Department of Human Services terms, a “deprived asset”, also known as “gifting”, is where you give away an asset without getting something of at least equal value in return.

The value of a granny flat right is the amount paid, or the value of the assets transferred, in return for a life interest or life estate in a property.

Centrelink may apply the “reasonableness test” in determining the amount that should be paid for a granny flat right. This test is based on a formula based on a conversation factor relating to your age next birthday and the couple age pension rate.

If the amount paid is equal to or below the value determined by the reasonableness test, then there is no deprivation. However, if the amount you paid for the granny flat right is more than the cost or value of the granny flat right, the excess amount paid is considered to be a “deprived asset”.

This could affect the amount of pension you are paid.

Depending on the value of the granny flat right, you may be considered as a home owner for Centrelink (assets test) assessment purposes, even though you don’t own the home you have the granny flat right in.

WANT MORE INFORMATION?

Speak to us about how we can assist you to draft a Granny Flat Right Agreement to document your arrangements regarding the use and occupation of part of your home. We will liaise with your financial planner to cover off the financial and social security aspects as there may be other things you can do like contribute proceeds of sale to super.

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to documenting co-habitation and property use agreements and estate planning matters generally, 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 needs.

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