Legal documents, such as contracts, commonly need to be signed in front of a witness. The rationale for this is to minimise the risk of people fraudulently entering into agreements and other legal documents. Further, provided the witness keeps a copy of the document, if the parties produce two different documents at some point in the future, the witness will be able to identify which document is authentic.
This article explores who can witness your signature to a legal document and what documents they may require you to produce.
Who Can Be a Witness?
Generally, there is no need for a witness to have an official status. However, a witness should:
- Be over 18 years of age;
- Be of sound mind;
- Not be under the influence of drugs;
- Not be a party to the document or have any financial interests in the document; and
- Have known you for at least one year OR have taken reasonable steps to verify your identity.
What Documents Will a Witness Need to See?
If your witness has known you for a year or more, they will not need to do anything to verify your identity. However, if your witness has not known you for a year, they should take steps to verify your identity before they witness your signature.
To verify your identity, your witness will probably ask you to produce documents, preferably containing a recent photograph, confirming you are who you say you are. You will generally need to show your witness either:
- One primary photographic identification document; OR
- One primary non-photographic and one secondary identification document.
Primary Photographic Identification Documents
Examples of primary photographic identification documents include:
- A current Australian or overseas drivers licence;
- A current Australian or overseas passport;
- An Australian or overseas passport that expired within the last two years; and
- a proof of age card issued under the Photo Card Act 2005.
Primary Non-Photographic Identification Documents
Examples of primary non-photographic identification documents include:
- An Australian State or Territory issued birth certificate or birth extract;
- An Australian citizenship certificate;
- A pension card issued by Centrelink; and
- A Birth Certificate issued by a foreign government or the United Nations or a foreign citizenship certificate, with English translation prepared by an accredited translator if necessary.
Secondary Identification Documents
Examples of secondary identification documents for the purpose of showing your name and residential address include:
- Notice from the Australian Taxation Office issued within the last 12 months;
- Notice from Centrelink issued within the last 12 months; and
- Rates notices or a utility bill issued by a local council, water authority, gas or electricity provider within the last three months.
Together with a copy of the signed documents, your witness will probably ask to keep a copy of the document you produce for their records. This is in the event they are requested to confirm whether a document is authentic in the future.
Having a document correctly witnessed is important, both to yourself and the witness. If a witness fails to comply with his or her obligations, he or she may be subject to a fine.
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