Conveyancing Assistant at Sherrards, Gill Talbot, explains what being a witness to a legal document actually entails and examines typical examples of requests for signatures that you might come across.
It seems obvious and easy to sign legal documents correctly, but the number of errors we see here at Sherrards solicitors is surprising…..
The role of a witness is more onerous than you might think. A witness must be a neutral third party with no financial interest, must know the person whose signature they are witnessing and be satisfied as to their identity. The witness does not however have to be familiar with the terms of the document.
A witness must be 18 or over. Contrary to common belief, a spouse or co-habitee can in fact act as a witness, but it is best avoided as it could be argued that they are not neutral. It may sound obvious but it is important to keep your signature consistent.
An individual or a company can authorise a power of attorney to sign on their behalf, but the delegated power of attorney will still require a witness for their signature. In this instance, the witness is verifying the identity of the attorney.
An individual signature
The most common form of witnessing an individual’s signature is after observing the document being signed in their presence. The witness must then sign the document as proof and print their name, address and occupation. The name and address must be legible to allow the witness to be traced should any questions arise concerning the execution. The usual form is as follows:-
Signed as a deed by (full name of individual) in the presence of
Signature of witness:________________________
Name of witness (in BLOCK CAPITALS):___________________
Address of witness: _________________________
Occupation of witness:________________________
It is permissible for a witness to verify two signatures on a document but each signature should be separately witnessed.
Certain Lenders require the Mortgage Deed / Legal Charge to be witnessed by a Solicitor or Notary Public. Some Lenders may also require the Solicitor to provide a Certificate of Execution.
There is more to consider when verifying a signature on behalf of a company, such as the memorandum and articles of association or a person with significant control. Essentially it is usual for two directors to sign without the need for a witness.
Executed as a deed by (name of company) acting by [a director and its secretary] [two directors](Full name of individuals)
Signature of Director:____________________
Signature of [Secretary][Director]:________________
However, since April 2008 and the Companies Act 2006, one director can sign in the presence of a witness using the form below.
Executed as a deed by (name of Company) acting by a director (full name of Director) In the presence of:
Signature of Director:__________________
Signature of witness:________________
Name of witness (in BLOCK CAPITALS):________________
Address of witness:____________________
Occupation of witness: __________________
What requires a signature and what doesn’t?
It is important to remember that whilst plans do not require a witness, they do need to be initialled by each party. Likewise, contracts do not require a witness as these are not deeds.
Certain documents such as Wills require two witnesses. Other documents require each page to be initialled by each party as well as a signature at the end, for example, a power of attorney or assured shorthold tenancies (AST’s). This proves that all terms were read and approved to prevent future misunderstandings.
For international documents, there are government authorised license officials known as notaries who authorise the identity of each signatory. The authenticity of the signature is confirmed by an attached certificate known as an “apostille”. See https://www.notarypubliccentrallondon.co.uk/ for further information.
Electronic and digital signatures are becoming more widely accepted for example for AST’s. However, for leases, contracts and other legal deeds, there is no case law yet as to their validity so electronic signatures are not currently common place. Land registry have published some guidance:
Don’t forget, until such time as electronic signatures are valid for all legal documentation, originals of all signatures are required, and scanned documents will not be permitted.
If you have any queries on this article or another matter, please contact one of our residential team or Gill Talbot.