Signing a Document? Here’s Who Can Witness It
Some legal documents require a person's signature to be witnessed. So who can be a witness? Read our guide to find out more.
Have you ever had to sign a legal document which states it must be signed in the presence of a witness? What does this mean? And who can be a witness of a signature? It is important to know the laws and regulations surrounding who can be a witness. This is because using an improper witness can tarnish the legitimacy of the legal document. Read our guide to find out who can be a witness when you are signing a document.
Why Are They Needed?
So you might be wondering why we actually need a witness when signing a document? There are many reasons. The key rationale is that it helps to ensure the person signing the document is actually the correct person. The purpose of this is to avoid fraudulent documents whereby one person signs on another person’s behalf. For more information, you can read our guide ‘Is It Legal to Sign on Someone Else’s Behalf?‘.
Further, having a witness is also beneficial where two different documents are submitted. Assuming the witness has kept a copy of the document, they will be able to verify the original, legitimate document.
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Who Can Witness a Signature?
Many people can be witnesses. Ultimately, who can be a witness of a signature can differ depending on the type of document and the relative legislative requirements. Generally speaking, a witness must be:
- At least 18 years old
- Be acquainted with the person they are witnessing for
- Be of sound mind and have capacity to witness
- Must not be a beneficiary or party of the legal document
- Must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
However, some legal documents have different requirements. For instance, a witness for an affidavit or statutory declaration must be a:
- Justice of the Peace (JP)
- Notary public
- Commissioner of the court for taking affidavits
- A legal practitioner
- A person having authority to administer an oath
It is important to note, if a person has known you for less than one year, they will need to verify your identity. This can be done through the production of a photographic identification document such as a passport or drivers license. If this is not available, the signer will have to provide a non-photographic document (such as a birth certificate) and a secondary document (such as an ATO notice).
Can a Relative Be a Witness?
While there is no specific law stating a relative cannot be a witness, it is not always the best idea. Ideally, a witness should be a neutral third-party. As discussed above, a witness cannot be a beneficiary or party to the document. However, where relatives are involved, this can sometimes tarnish the legitimacy of the witness. Therefore, it is best to appoint someone with no interest in the document. This can also mean no significant interest in your affairs. Avoiding a relative as a witness is particularly important in wills as it is likely they will be a beneficiary.
Types of Documents Requiring a Witness
There are a number of documents that require a witness. These may include:
- Statutory declarations
- Financial loan/agreement
- Mortgage document
- General contracts
To conclude, witnesses are needed in a variety of legal documents. This works to ensure documents are not signed fraudulently. If you have any questions regarding who can be a witness, we recommend consulting a contract lawyer.
Laura is a Legal Intern at Lawpath. She is studying a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Business Administration at Macquarie University. Laura is interested in Intellectual Property Law and how technology can assist in improving access to justice.