In the everyday running and administration of your business, you will likely come across several contracts and documents that you need to sign. Most of these will be simple contracts that your signature alone is enough to fulfil. However, contracts and records of a more complex nature require more intensive certification of your identity and agreement. These will often require a witness to your signature. This is someone that watches you sign the document and then will sign themselves, indicating they have completed this process. They also certify that the overall document (in respect of its signatures) is valid.

There are some requirements as to who can be a witness, and some documents require a special kind of witness signature that can only be performed by certain people. This article will explain who can be a witness, who some of these special witnesses are, and what kind of documents require such signatures.

What Does a Witness to Your Signature Do?

Generally, a witness in New Zealand is someone that is:

  • 18 years old or over;
  • of sound mind;
  • not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol;
  • not a party to the agreement or has a financial interest in it; and 
  • not a beneficiary if the document is a trust or self-managed superannuation fund.

The purpose of having someone witness your signature is to authenticate that you are who you say you are and that you are the one doing the signing. This is important when contracts or documents are serious, or there are sensitive issues at play.

Examples of such documents may include:

  • director or shareholder resolutions;
  • trustee resolutions;
  • trust documentation;
  • wills, codicils and other testamentary documents;
  • commercial agreements; and 
  • property documentation.

If the witness is not someone who knows you well (that is, has not known you for a year or more), then you may need to bring some kind of photo identification with you to the signing. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • your driver’s licence;
  • your passport; or
  • a Kiwi Access card.

A witness can only authenticate your identity and signature to the document. Some documents may require someone (usually a lawyer) to:

  • verify their contents;
  • confirm that you (the signatory) are of sound mind; and
  • confirm that you understand the contents of the document itself.

Some forms can be signed through electronic signatures now as well.

Specialised Witnesses

Some official documents will only have a small class of people that can be witnesses to the signatures on these statements. Papers of this nature that you prepare for court proceedings will generally fall into this category. Some of these are:

  • oaths; 
  • affidavits;
  • statutory declarations; and
  • affirmations.

Because of the serious nature of these documents, only certain people can be witnesses to the signatures. These are:

  • Justices of the Peace (JPs);
  • Notary Publics;
  • an enrolled barrister or solicitor; and
  • a Deputy Registrar of the District or High Court.

Depending on the kind of document they are witnessing, they will also check through the contents of the document and make sure you understand it. If the form is from overseas, then you may need a Notary Public to notarise and authenticate it. 

You can usually find such authorised witnesses through a register online. Further, you can find a JP through the Royal Federation of NZ Justices’ Associations on their website. You can find a Notary Public through the New Zealand Society of Notaries on their website as well.  JPs are volunteers, and you can usually find one in your local community. Notaries charge for their services and are practising lawyers that you will usually find in a law firm. 

Some Things to Note When Signing

It is crucial to make sure that you have read through the documents carefully and fully understand what exactly you are signing. As part of the witnessing process, you must:

  • ensure that the witness sees you sign, and can confirm who you are;
  • sign in blue or black ink so that your signature is visible on any electronic copies;
  • sign where indicated on any signature blocks throughout the whole document; and
  • initial any changes you make after signing the document.

Key Takeaways

It is very likely that as you conduct business, you will need to get a signature witnessed. Whether that be in a commercial capacity and you can get an ordinary witness, or it is something more serious, and you need to get an official authorised witness. You need to make sure that the witness is a party that does not have an interest in the contract or document that you are signing so that there is an appropriate level of separation between the two of you. If you would like more information or some clarification about who can be a witness to your signature, contact LegalVision’s commercial contract lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

FAQs

Who can witness my signature?

The person who witnesses your signature needs to be over 18, of sound mind, not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, and not have an interest in the document you are signing. Some documents will need special witnesses, such as a Notary Public or a Justice of the Peace.

Why do signatures need to be witnessed?

Some signatures need to be witnessed as it proves your identity and that you are a party to whatever you are signing. The witness can only authenticate your signature.

Can I witness my own signature?

A witness needs to be someone else who can confirm your identity and see you sign a contract. You cannot provide that authority in a personal capacity.

How do I find an authorised witness?

You can find authorised witnesses such as a Notary Public or a Justice of the Peace in the phone book or online. New Zealand notaries have a registry at the New Zealand Society of Notaries, and NZ JPs also have one on the website of the Royal Federation of NZ Justices’ Associations.

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