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As part of your day to day business operations, you may need to provide your signature in front of an authorised witness. The primary purpose of witnessing your documents is to validate the identity of the signatory who signed them. New Zealand law deems Justices of the Peace and Notaries Public to be authorised witnesses. If you need to use your documents overseas, you have to witness it with a Notary Public. This article will explain: 

  • what is involved in witnessing a signature in New Zealand; and 
  • how to find an authorised witness.

What Documents Require Witnessing?

Most of the day-to-day arrangements that you sign with other companies and individuals in the course of running your business will be simple contracts that do not require witnesses. However, some specific transactions, such as banking and property transactions, involve more complex agreements that sometimes require the signature of a witness to confirm the identity of the person signing. Some examples include:

  • agreements, such as for the sale and purchase of real estate;
  • commercial agreements;
  • leasing documentation;
  • director, shareholder and trustee resolutions;
  • wills, codicils or other testamentary instruments, including sworn statements;
  • affidavits;
  • statutory declarations; and 
  • powers of attorney and enduring powers of attorney.

The primary purpose of witnessing is to validate the identity of the signatory who signed the document. Authentication is limited to the:

  • act of signing by a particular person; and
  • identity of the person signing the document.

However, for some types of documents such as wills, enduring powers of attorney and relationship property agreements, lawyers are sometimes also required to certify:

  • the contents of the document;
  • the signatory’s state of mind or mental capacity; and
  • understanding of the nature and contents of the document. 

The use of electronic signatures has already become common and it is likely to increase. The New Zealand Law Society explains the legal requirement to witness electronic signatures on their website. You can now sign some documents, like wills, by audiovisual methods in New Zealand.

Who Can Witness a Signature?

Witnesses must be: 

  • over 18 years of age; and 
  • of sound mind. 

They have to know you and, at the time of signing, cannot be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They cannot be a: 

  • party to the document or have any financial interest in it; or
  • beneficiary, if the document is a trust or self-managed superannuation fund.

What Is an Authorised Witness?

Certain legal documents, such as affidavits and affirmations, have to be witnessed by an authorised person to validate that the document is true and accurate. If there are no requirements as to who needs to witness the document, you can use a:

  • Justice of the Peace;
  • Solicitor of the High Court;
  • Notary Public; or
  • Deputy Registrar at a court.

Your Role in the Witnessing Process

As part of getting your document witnessed, you must:

  • sign in front of the witness;
  • use blue or black ink, as this will scan more clearly on electronic versions of the document;
  • sign where required on all pages of the document; and
  • initial any changes that you make after signing the document.

What Is a Notary Public?

In some instances, you will require a Notary Public to witness your documents, for example, if your document needs to be recognised internationally. A Notary Public is a senior practising lawyer who:

  • can witness signatures on legal documents;
  • holds a unique public office;
  • can administer oaths; and 
  • can certify the authenticity of legal documents.

Notary Publics are a separate position to Justices of the Peace. Whereas Justices of the Peace will witness or certify your legal documents domestically, a Notary Public’s certification will be valid overseas. They typically charge a fee for their services, while a Justice of the Peace offers their services to the community free of charge and should not receive any payment.

How to Find a Notary Public 

You can find a Notary using the New Zealand Society of Notaries website. In most cases, you need to make an appointment before you see them.

If you live overseas, you can email true copies of the documents you want to notarise, provided that: 

  • the Notary can verify the document from the issuing authority; and 
  • you are not required to sign the documents. 

If you must sign, you must do this in front of the Notary and prove your identity.

Key Takeaways 

Most of the documents that you will need to sign as part of your commercial activities will not require witnesses. However, some complex transactions such as the sale and purchase of real estate will require an authorised witness to validate the: 

  • act of signing; and 
  • identity of the person signing. 

If you require your documents to be valid in other countries, you will need to engage a Notary public. They typically charge a fee for their services, unlike Justices of the Peace. If you need help finding a witness for a signature on one of your documents, contact LegalVision’s business lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.


Why do signatures need to be witnessed?

The primary purpose of witnessing is to validate that the document was signed by the signatory. In most cases, the authorised witness is only validating the act of signing by a particular person and that the person signing is who they say they are. However, for some types of documents such as wills, the witness is also required to validate other elements.

Can relatives witness legal documents?

There is no general rule that says a family member or spouse cannot witness a document, as long as they are not a party to the agreement and will not benefit from it in some way.

How much do notary services cost?

Unlike Justice of the Peace, Notary Public services charge a small fee. However, this depends on the nature of the service you require and the number of documents you need to notarise. It is best to obtain an estimate beforehand.

Do you need to translate your documents before notarising them?

For most documents, the Notary does not have to understand its content, as he is only providing an identification service and witnessing your signature. It is essential that you, as the person signing, understand the language and the effect of the document you are signing.

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