When signing legal documents, witnesses can seem like an unnecessary formality, but they are crucial to protecting the individuals involved.
The team at Wafer Phillips regularly receives queries about who can witness a signature, which is why in this article we delve into the importance of witnesses when signing legal documents.
We will also identify the types of documents that require signatures, discuss who can serve as a witness, and set out the options available for those individuals unable to sign their own legal paperwork.
Which legal documents require a signature?
There are several legal documents that require signatures to ensure they are legally binding.
These include contracts, wills, power of attorney, property deeds, and divorce decrees.
Every document has a specific set of requirements, and signatures are always a crucial element in formalising these agreements.
Why does there need to be a witness to a signature?
Having a witness present when signing a legal document may seem like an extra hoop to jump through, but it is a necessary safeguard against potential disputes and fraud.
Witnesses play a vital role in verifying that the individual signing is doing so willingly, without coercion or undue influence.
By attesting to the signing process, witnesses help ensure the integrity and validity of a legal document.
Who can witness a signature?
Some legal documents have specific requirements regarding who can witness a signature and, more importantly, who would not be an appropriate candidate.
Generally, a witness must be impartial, of sound mind, at least 18-years-old, and must not have any involvement in the document.
Often people choose professionals like solicitors, notaries or legal executives as their witnesses, but this is not a requirement.
Any individual who meets the listed criteria can be a witness. However, it is important to note that in some instances, individuals who are related to you or have a personal interest in the document would not be appropriate.
For example, if you were writing a will, your own children who could stand to benefit would not be suitable witnesses.
For that reason, it is advisable to check the specific requirements for each type of document to ensure compliance with the relevant guidelines.
What happens if someone can’t sign their own legal documents?
In instances where an individual, also known as a testator, is unable to sign their own legal documents due to physical or mental incapacity, there are alternative options available.
The most common approach is to appoint someone as a “signing witness” to execute the document on behalf of the incapacitated person.
This involves a special attestation clause which makes it clear that the testator has read and understood the paperwork and is happy for a witness to sign on their behalf.
It is also possible for someone who cannot sign their name with a pen to leave another mark to act as a signature, such as a fingerprint.
In this instance, there would need to be two independent witnesses who were fully aware of what was being agreed to.
Seeking professional legal advice in these circumstances is important to ensure legal documents are binding and, most importantly, that the interests of the individual are protected.
If you need any advice regarding appointing a signing witness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a member of our team who will be happy to assist.
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Ultimately, the presence of a witness during the signing of a legal document is vital to protecting all parties involved.
By adhering to these guidelines and choosing appropriate witnesses, you can rest easy that your legal document will be valid.
For more than 25 years, Wafer Phillips has been proud to assist clients throughout Liverpool and the North West.
Our supportive team of expert solicitors is committed to helping you when dealing with any legal document that requires a witness, such as wills and probate.
We hope that this article has helped you to better understand who can witness a signature and their importance, but if you have any questions or if you are interested in finding out more, do not hesitate to call us today on 0151 256 7898 or email us at email@example.com