E-signatures valid until 2021

Electronic signatures

Corporate trustees can still use electronic signatures to execute deeds after measures were extended exempting it only be done face to face.

Measures that allow SMSF corporate trustees to sign and execute deeds electronically have been extended by a further six months and will now end in March 2021.

The measures allow companies to convene meetings prescribed under the Corporations Act online instead of face to face and also guarantee that when a company officer signs a document electronically, that document has been validly executed.

When the measures were first introduced by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on 5 May, it was noted they would also cover SMSFs with a corporate trustee and this would also continue under the extension to the initiative.

In announcing the extension, Frydenberg said: “To execute documents, company officers will continue to be able to sign documents electronically, so for the duration of the extended relief, signatories will not be required to sign the same physical document.

“This will ensure that documents can continue to be properly executed at a time when ordinary business operations have been disrupted.”

Following the initial announcement, Townsends Business & Corporate Lawyers solicitor Elizabeth Wang noted the temporary measures, which were made under an instrument-making power inserted into the Corporations Act, override any state-based restrictions on the use of electronic signatures for corporate trustees. The Law Council of Australia also called for the measure to remain in place permanently, but its application in state jurisdictions would need to be clarified and made more consistent.

The ATO has also confirmed it would accept a digital signature on SMSF financial statements if trustees were unable to sign them in person due to COVID-19-related lockdowns and social distancing requirements.

Despite these moves, DBA Lawyers special counsel Bryce Figot has warned trustees to still use paper and ink signatures where they can until a coherent electronic signature regime is adopted across Australia.


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