I have recently come across a client who had their trust deed signed by the settlor, electronically. The settlor had inserted a jpeg of her signature in the deed and emailed it to the client for signing. There was no original copy. It was also electronically signed by the witness of the settlor. It is not known if the witness was present with the settlor when it was signed, or if they signed the same document.
This deed would fail. It is not executed.
Another client had their deed signed by the accountant who set the trust up, but it was also witnessed electronically – one of the accountant’s witnessed the client’s signature. Interestingly signatures were ‘witnessed’ from afar!
This deed also fails.
Deeds cannot be signed electronically in any state of Australia. There is one exception now due to recent amendments to the Conveyancing Act, s 38A, in NSW. This new legislation does allow for deeds to be signed electronically, from 2019, but the legislation does not cover side issues such as how can an electronically signed deed be witnessed? When 2 people sign a document on different computers they are not signing the same document so will this be valid?
Can companies sign electronically?
What happens when someone dealing with the trustee wants to see the original deed? If you were to print it out would it be original? How could a certified copy of the deed be made?
My tip: Do not sign any deed electronically, even if you are an individual based in NSW. Print out the deeds and sign with a pen.
If you have signed a deed electronically seek legal advice on how to rectify this problem, even if located in NSW. And don’t go back to the same firm that caused the problem in the first place as they are likely to not know about the issue or how to fix it.