General powers of attorney during COVID-19
A general power of attorney authorises another person to make financial decisions on your behalf. You can specify when the power ends, otherwise it will automatically end when you lose your capacity (learn more about making an enduring power of attorney that can continue to operate or start after you lose capacity).
A general power of attorney can be made by an individual or a corporation.
A general power of attorney for an individual that is used for a land transaction is required to be witnessed in accordance with the Land Title Act 1974. However, physical distancing requirements make it difficult to meet the pre-existing requirements for finalising these documents.
There is a temporary regulation that allows these general powers of attorney for individuals that need to be witnessed (e.g. as required under the Land Title Act 1974) to be done so by a special witness over video conference.
General powers of attorney may also be made electronically and using counterpart documents.
These temporary changes will make it easier for people to stay at home and reduce physical interactions during the pandemic, while still being able to put legal arrangements in place.
You do not have to have your documents witnessed by video—you can still choose to follow the original requirements if you can safely find a witness to sign them in person.
To protect against fraud and elder abuse, only a small group of special witnesses can endorse general powers of attorney in this way.
- an Australian legal practitioner
- authorised Justices of the Peace (JPs) or Commissioners for Declarations (Cdecs)
- a JP or Cdec employed by a law practice that prepared the document
- a notary public
- a JP or Cdec employed by the Public Trustee.
How it works
Whether you are signing a paper or electronic document, the process to have your general power of attorney witnessed by video will be similar.
You must sign every page of the document, showing each page to the witness as you go. It must be clear that you are the person signing the document and that you are doing so freely and willingly.
If signing electronically
You can choose to sign the document electronically. This means you can, for example:
- use an online document signing platform
- sign using a digital signature in your PDF reader
- paste an image of your hand-made signature into the document.
Send to witness for their signature
Once you have signed the document using video conferencing technology in front of the special witness, you can either:
- send them the signed document (electronically or by post)
- ask them to sign a counterpart of the document (i.e. an identical copy of what you signed but without your signature).
The witness must then:
- sign each page of the document, copy or counterpart (they could either sign it electronically or print and sign it)
- complete and sign the special witness certificate to accompany the document
- return their signed document to you—or you can ask them to send it straight to someone else.
Making documents this way may mean more than one version of the same document is created (unless you both sign the same document electronically).
You must keep all of the following documents together:
- your electronically signed document
- any other version of the same document signed by the witness
- the special witness certificate.
How to use the modified arrangements
If you wish to make a general power of attorney using the modified arrangements you can:
- get a lawyer to prepare one for you—contact the Queensland Law Society for a list of practitioners
- ask the Public Trustee to make one for you—contact the Public Trustee of Queensland
- make one yourself and then contact a special witness to help you witness it.
We will provide more information about the availability of approved JPs who can witness documents using the modified arrangements soon.
Learn more about these changes in the Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response—Documents and Oaths) Regulation 2020