November 28, 2018

How to sign a deed, and why it’s important

Deeds

Deeds are regularly signed incorrectly by individuals, companies and powers of attorney on behalf of parties. A failure to sign a deed correctly can, as its worst consequence, result in the deed being unenforceable. It can also result in things like:

a) lenders refusing to fund;
b) further documentation being required;
c) tax consequences;
d) difficulty in opening things like bank accounts; and
e) litigation.

I am sure we would all agree that the above is all best avoided where possible. It is time consuming, stressful, and costly: potentially extremely so.

  1. Signing a deed as an individual

When signing a deed as an individual, you will usually see the words “signed, sealed and delivered” next to where you are required to sign.[1] This is really an old fashioned statement which means the document has been executed (signed), in front of a witness (sealed) and there is another party to the deed to whom you are producing it (delivered).

It is important, though, that these matters are complied with.

When executing a deed, you must sign in front of an independent adult person who also then executes as your witness. An independent person can be anyone independent of the deed, unlike some other documents which require authorised witnesses such as lawyers or justices of the peace.

It is very important that said person is definitely independent: otherwise their execution as a witness, and the enforceability of the deed itself, can be called into question.

These rules apply when you are signing as an individual partner on behalf of a partnership as well.

  1. Signing a deed as a company

A company does not require a witness when signing: the property law legislation in each state requires that companies sign deeds in accordance with section 127 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

Here, it is important to be aware of who can sign on behalf of your company.

a) If there is a sole director and no company secretary: the sole director must sign as sole director and confirm there is no company secretary;[2] 
b) If there is a sole director who is also the company secretary: that person must sign and note that they are the sole director who is also the sole company secretary;
c) If there is more than one director and/or company secretary: two of those people must sign to bind the company.

Regularly, clients of ours are not aware that when their company was set up, their husband/wife was added as a director/company secretary and attempt to sign deeds as sole directors. It is very important that you know who is a director and a company secretary of your company: for executing deeds and more generally for running your company.

The above rules apply when you are signing as a company partner on behalf of a partnership as well.

  1. Signing a deed as directed

Finally, companies may, by resolution of the board of directors, direct that someone to sign for the company,[3] or, a party may sign a deed appointing a power of attorney. There is some question as to whether a deed is enforceable where signed pursuant to a resolution only, so we recommend you seek advice about that direction prior to executing a deed.

There are several important factors around signing on behalf of an individual or a company when you are a power of attorney. This includes, where signing as a power of attorney for an individual, such execution being in the best interest of that individual.

We recommend you simply seek advice about your appointment prior to execution of any documentation as an attorney.

If you are unsure how to sign a deed or whether your deed has been signed correctly, please contact JHK Legal on 07 3859 4500.  The above article is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice.

[1] This varies from state to state, but broadly this applies.

[2] Importantly: this is not covered by section 127 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), and therefore it is always best practice to have a company secretary to your company in Australia.

[3] A resolution of the board in and of itself may not be enough to appoint a power of attorney: it is important that you speak to a solicitor to assist you with any appointment.