How is the signing of legal documentation affected by COVID-19?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and governments and health officials repeatedly remind us to maintain social or physical distance and avoid multi-person gatherings, the processes by which people and businesses go about having their legal documents signed and witnessed has changed.
In many cases, legal documents such as affidavits, corporate documents, land title forms, wills and powers of attorney require that lawyers personally witness a document being signed. In some ways, those requirements have been relaxed but in others the in-person witnessing of a signature by a lawyer is still required.
The creation and execution of a will requires certain steps to be followed meticulously. Normally we schedule an in-person meeting with one of our lawyers at our office. However, to avoid meetings with multiple people and to maintain physical distancing, our lawyers are now using telephone and video conferences to gather client’s information. Where an in-person meeting is appropriate, we will witness signatures from a distance. In situations where an in-person meeting is not possible or advisable due to COVID-19 precautions, our lawyers will use additional procedures to ensure that the basic requirements of a will are met.
We understand every client’s situation will be different. Our lawyers are well-informed of the new rules and will advise you as to the best way for you to sign your will safely and ensure that your wishes will be carried out.
- Powers of Attorney
In British Columbia, a person can grant a power of attorney (a “POA”) to another adult to act on their behalf in relation to their legal and financial affairs. For a POA to be valid in BC the POA must be in writing and be executed in one of two ways:
- signed by the adult making the POA (the “Donor”) in the presence of two witnesses, and signed by both witnesses in the presence of the Donor; or
- signed by the Donor in the presence of one witness provided that witness is a lawyer or notary of BC, and signed by the lawyer or notary in the presence of the Donor.
When a POA is witnessed by two non-lawyer witnesses, some institutions such as banks, credit unions or the Land Title Office may request additional documentation to prove the POA’s validity, which can cause delays and extra stress. These issues tend not to arise when a POA is witnessed by a lawyer.
In order to have a POA witnessed by one of our lawyers, where appropriate, an in-person meeting where signatures are witnessed at a safe distance can take place. When multiple people must attend to sign documents (as it usually the case for a POA) in-person meeting times can be staggered to maintain physical distancing. Where in-person meetings are not possible due to COVID-19 precautions, a Donor’s options are more limited. Whatever your situation might be, please contact our office so that we can advise you of the best way for you to execute the POA safely in your specific circumstances without an in-person meeting.
In British Columbia, affidavits used in court, the BC Corporations Registry and the Land Title Office must be sworn in front of a lawyer or notary public. Where appropriate, in-person meetings can still take place with proper safety measures to complete the swearing of affidavits. However, where in-person meetings are not safe or advisable due to COVID-19, one of our lawyers can witness the swearing of an affidavit from remotely by live video conference (via Facetime, Zoom, Whereby, etc.) by using some additional procedures.
- Real Estate Transactions and Borrowings
For real estate transactions and borrowing arrangements, in some rare cases, an in-person meeting will not be required. However, the typical real estate transaction or borrowing arrangement will require that the execution of documents be witnessed in-person by one of our lawyers.
Where appropriate, an in-person meeting where signatures are witnessed at a safe distance can take place. However, we understand that this will not always be safe for individuals due to COVID-19 precautions. Where this is the case, the required documents can still be signed and transactions completed with some additional procedures permitted by the Land Title Office.
Please contact our office so that we can advise you as to whether it is possible for you to execute the necessary documents for your real estate transaction or borrowing arrangement in your specific circumstances without an in-person meeting.
- Business transactions
For business transactions, the execution of some, but not all, documents will require a witness. If the execution of document must be witnessed by a lawyer (for example, if a business transaction involves the execution of a document to be submitted to the Land Title Office), where appropriate, an in-person meeting where signatures are witnessed at a safe distance can take place.
Again, we understand that in-person meetings may not be advisable or possible due to COVID-19 precautions. Where this is the case, it may be possible for the required documents to be signed and witness remotely with some additional procedures. To find out if this applies to your business transaction, please contact our office so that we can advise you as to whether it is possible for you to execute the necessary documents without an in-person meeting.
Seeking Proper Legal Advice
If you have questions about the best way to have your legal documents signed and witnessed while maintaining safe physical distancing during COVID-19, please contact our office to speak with one of our lawyers. We can guide you through your specific circumstances and safely help you prepare and implement whatever documents your situation requires with as little inconvenience as possible.
© Linley Welwood LLP. The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice. Readers should seek legal advice in relation to their own specific circumstances.